The Current

'Sometimes I can't drink or eat': Syrian refugee living in B.C. faces $10K dental bill

This Canadian newcomer never imagined she'd be facing a $10,000 dental bill in her new home.
A's teeth cause her so much pain that she can't stand to brush them. The gums around her front teeth are turning black, and a small crack in her front tooth is giving her a lot of pain. (Nicole Crescenzi/CBC)

In November, The Current aired a special edition of the program called Filling the Gaps: Dental Care in Canada.

Story transcript

Canadian newcomer A (The Current agreed to keep our guest's name anonymous) never imagined she'd be facing a $10,000 dental bill in her new home. 

About a year ago, A arrived in Nanaimo, B.C., from Syria with her husband and five kids, ranging in age from six to 17. 

A is often in pain from her cracked teeth and needs significant dental work. As a government-sponsored refugee, she is eligible for limited publicly funded dental care, but she needs far more than the basic checkup and extractions this covers. 

A says her teeth pain makes life miserable. (Nicole Crescenzi/CBC)

"It's very painful and sometimes I can't drink or eat something cold or hot ... it makes my life miserable,"  A tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Elizabeth Herman is part of a group of local volunteers who have been helping refugees families settle in Nanaimo. She met A at a community gathering.

"A had just come in and she was very upset because on her way there she had lost a piece of her front tooth and she was in a lot of pain," Herman says.

"She was crying and we were all just sort of horrified by this."

Herman says she knows all the Syrian newcomer families in Nanaimo.

"With no exception they have all told me the same story that they were under the impression that when they arrived in Canada that their dental care would be covered as part of their general healthcare."

A was quoted over $10K for dentistry work— a price far above her budget. She's been taking Tylenol to cope with the pain for over a year. (Nicole Crescenzi/CBC)

A says it's been difficult coming to terms with the reality that her dental care won't be covered. She has to come up with the money on her own but doesn't have the resources. 

"I came to Canada to find a good life and I didn't think about how expensive Canada is, especially in terms of dental care," A says.

"I left Syria because I want to find another safe place ... it was a big and horrible journey of being a refugee but I never expected to have this problem."

Viral video fame helps pay bills

Since A spoke with The Current, there's been a new and unexpected development involving, of all things, a viral video about a dog.

One day Herman's husband saw a dog sitting in the driver's seat of a car, blaring the car horn, in a Nanaimo parking lot.

He shot a video of the dog on his phone. It made Herman laugh, so she posted it to her Facebook page.

The video went viral with about 600,000 views in short order. Various video licensing companies approached her to buy the rights to the video. Herman sold it and is donating the proceeds to help pay for A's dental work.

"It just seemed like a strange convergence of events. If there was some way to make some money from the video and use it toward A's dental care then we should do that," Herman tells Tremonti.

I see how it's affecting these families and holding them back from learning English, from being able to function normally and integrate into Canadian life.- Elizabeth Herman 

Based on sales, the amount raised will be about $1,700. Herman says it's the right thing to do and it doesn't make sense that refugees don't have their dental care covered.

"We have made a decision to bring them into this country and to re-settle them and to give them the best that we can to be successful here and that includes health care," she says.

"I just think that this is one piece that's missing and it doesn't make sense to me ... I see how it's affecting these families and holding them back from learning English, from being able to function normally and integrate into Canadian life."

This segment was produced by The Current's Willow Smith and Karin Marley.