The Refugee Council of Australia offers 13,750 places on its humanitarian program, offering support and care for people arriving in the country who need resettlement. The program offers a broad range of services, but some refugees arrive in Australia without applying through this scheme, leading to problems with access to the services they need. Learn more about the challenges refugees and asylum seekers in New South Wales face to get access to the dental care they need, and find out what you may need to do to get treatment.
Refugees and dental health
Studies show that refugees are more likely to suffer from dental health problems than Australian-born patients. One study by a Sydney Dental Hospital found that 29 percent of refugees surveyed had five or more untreated decayed teeth.
Refugees are often more likely to suffer with dental health problems because of poor or no access to dental care in their home countries. What's more, refugees and asylum seekers may have injuries to their faces and mouths that need urgent attention. Asylum seekers living in New South Wales are not always able to work, so they probably can't afford private dental care, but many of these people are eligible for public health care.
Support for newly-arrived refugees
Refugees who arrive under the Australian humanitarian program normally receive a Medicare card as soon as they arrive in the country. This allows refugees access to public health care. The NSW Refugee Health Service supports these new arrivals and will arrange a referral to a suitable dentist to arrange treatment. What's more, the Priority Oral Health Program allows some refugees to get urgent treatment more quickly, given some of the medical issues these people face.
Access to medical services for other refugees
Australian asylum seekers who arrive without applying through the humanitarian program find it harder to get access to free healthcare. While the Australian authorities process asylum applications from people who arrive by boat, refugees only receive a bridging visa, which can last for up to three years. Experts estimate that around a third of these people have no right to public healthcare through Medicare, even though many of them live in community housing.
If an asylum seeker living in the community needs emergency dental treatment and/or pain relief, he or she can normally receive care in a hospital. Nonetheless, this may only offer temporary relief. What's more, this does not help with long-term dental care.
Several voluntary organisations across New South Wales offer free dental treatment for asylum seekers and refugees who don't have access to public health care.
For example, the NSW Branch of the Australian Dental Association works in partnership with the Australian Red Cross to asylum seekers waiting for the government to process their applications. Dentists volunteer their time and expertise to treat and educate patients. These sessions can generally treat 30 to 40 patients a day, but they only take place on four Saturdays per year. Other voluntary organisations can also help.
Refugees often need urgent dental health care, but these vulnerable people may find it harder to get the help they need. Contact a dental hospital, such as Dental Smile Clinic, or the NSW Refugee Health Service for more information and advice.