Refugees Smile Brighter Thanks to Dentists Without Borders in the Community
A significant proportion of refugees and asylees resettled in Maryland arrive with severe, complex and painful dental problems. Many have spent years in refugee camps where there is a lack of access to basic dental care. Refugees arrive in need of expensive dental procedures including root canals, complicated surgical extractions, and deep cleanings. Without this care, refugees risk continued severe pain and infection, which can harm their mental and physical well-being, as well as their ability to obtain and maintain employment.
Maryland Medicaid provides very limited coverage for adults over the age of 21. With a limited amount of funds after first arriving in the United States, refugees and asylees often cannot afford to pay for necessary dental services. Thankfully, two dental providers, Dr. Usa Bunnag and Dr. Qais Musmar are currently partnering with the Suburban Washington Resettlement Center (SWRC) to provide pro-bono dental services for refugees and asylees. Both of their personal experiences with once being new Americans themselves have heightened their awareness and empathy towards the challenges that immigrants often face after arriving in the U.S.
Dr. Qais Musmar was born in the West Bank under Israeli occupation. He and his family immigrated to the United States, where he met his wife, a Cambodian refugee. Dr. Musmar currently has a practice, Reflection Dental, in Alexandria, Virginia. Upon learning about the International Rescue Committee from a patient, Dr. Musmar offered to provide pro-bono dental services on a case-by-case basis to SWRC clients. He is increasingly inspired by the resilience displayed by the refugees and asylees whom he has assisted and hopes to give back to the community more in the future by offering special free dental care events.
When Dr. Usa Bunnag first immigrated to the United States from Thailand as a teenager, her family often struggled to pay for her dental care. This inspired her to become a dentist and ultimately provide care to thousands of underprivileged children and adults. According to Dr. Bunnag, the major issue refugee and asylee clients face is a lack of preventative care treatment, which often leads to cases of periodontal disease and excessive cavities. She sympathizes with them because she also experienced a lack of access to quality dental care when living in Thailand. Dr. Bunnag currently has a dental practice in Bethesda, Maryland and is the CEO of a non-profit organization, Smiles on Wings, which provides dental and medical humanitarian aid to underprivileged populations in Southeast Asia. She is also dedicated to making dental care more accessible to children and adults under the Maryland Medicaid program. Her efforts have been recognized by both the Governor of Maryland and the Minister of Public Health in Thailand. Quoting Dr. Bunnag: “I get my energy from giving. I have been so blessed in my life. If I am able to help others and give back, I’m always going to give.”