A free program offered by Dalhousie University's faculty of dentistry is helping immigrants to Nova Scotia get access to dental care — in some cases for the first time in their lives.
The university says the program, which offers a free exam and cleaning, has helped as many as 200 immigrants as well as providing students with a priceless learning experience.
Masuseraphin Lufungula is from Congo, where many cannot afford a dentist.
"I was happy to hear that my teeth were to be cleaned because it was the first time that such a thing had happened," he said through a translator.
"I was impressed by the way the service was conducted and the room, how beautiful it was."
Rosette Mwamini, also from Congo, fled to Uganda with her four children and two nieces after war broke out and family members were taken away by soldiers.
As government-assisted refugees, Mwamini said her family has no dental coverage — so this program fills a void,
"It was a miracle," she said of the service.
The program is run through Immigrant Settlement and Integration Services, an organization that helps newcomers to Nova Scotia and Canada. Immigrants apply for the program through ISIS and are assessed to determine if they meet the criteria.
If the client needs more than a cleaning, ISIS is notified and they help find dentists to do the work at reduced rates.
Heather Doucette, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University's faculty of dentistry, said the idea is to provide second-year dental hygiene students with experiences they normally wouldn't have, such as seeing patients with a lot of deposits in their teeth or people who have never been to a dentist.
"They presented with different oral health conditions than the students had seen up to that point," she said.
"They relayed how valuable it was, not only from a skills development level but how valuable it was to treat patients who were underserved, who would not have received this care anywhere else."
Doucette said before seeing the patients, students were required to read about their cultures and the challenges they faced.
The faculty of dentistry is hoping to offer the program during the next school year for a longer period and to more immigrants.