Penn Dental Medicine steps up to care for Afghan refugees

Sixteen students served more than 60 patients at pop-up clinic, with future appointments made for another 35 patients

Togetherness: Faculty and students from Penn Dental Medicine pose during a Dec. 11 pop-up clinic for Afghan refugees.

Philadelphia - Because oral care is essential care, Penn Dental Medicine students stepped up to create a pop-up dental clinic in December for more than 60 Afghan refugees awaiting permanent placement in the Philadelphia area amid the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces during the final days of the war in Afghanistan.
"There is a tremendous need to make people healthy and happy," said Mark S. Wolff, D.D.S., Ph.D., dean of the dental school. "And there is a reward you can't count in dollars and cents. It's transformative for these students."

Many of the refugees' resettlement is being managed by the Philadelphia-based Nationalities Service Center, which supports immigrant and refugee clients with health and wellness services, community integration, legal protections, opportunities to achieve English language proficiency and more.

The center has partnered with Penn Dental Medicine since 2019, when the dental school established its Vulnerable Populations Clinic.

Olivia Sheridan, D.M.D., who directs the school's Vulnerable Populations Clinic, said that the dental school is honored to partner with the center in serving their clients.

"When we learned of this special need, we were eager to help," she said.

She worked with Leonard Jensen, D.M.D., dental director of the school's community dental care centers, and hygienist Karoline Genung to recruit student volunteers and organize the clinic.

The clinic was set up on a Saturday within a hotel where the refugees were living. Sixteen third- and fourth-year dental students, under the supervision of Drs. Sheridan and Jensen and Ms. Genung, provided care to more than 60 patients, with future appointments made for another 35 patients and 100 hygiene kits dispensed.

"We did not stop until we ran out of supplies," Dr. Sheridan said.

Along with exams, fluoride varnish was applied to everyone seen and over 50 units of silver diamine fluoride were placed, with several atraumatic restorative procedures completed. In addition to dental care, extensive hygiene and nutritional advice was provided.

Dr. Jensen said he was encouraged by the number of students willing to donate their time and talents.

"The curriculum for third- and fourth-year dental student is demanding, but these students really came through," he said.

The number of patients needing immediate major treatment, along with the poor condition of all of the patients' teeth, spurred the dental school to expand the service of its Vulnerable Populations Clinic. Running through July 1, the clinic will expand its hours from two to three days per week.

"The demand is still there," Dr. Jensen said.

"Dean Mark Wolff and the entire school administration are deeply committed to supporting these efforts and our student and faculty volunteers have clearly heard the call," said Dr. Sheridan. "They continue to step up and provide this much-needed care for our newest arrivals."

Dr. Jensen summed up the sense of purpose of the clinic's faculty and students and their ongoing efforts.

"These are our neighbors," he said. "We are all related."

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