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ROHI: Refugee Oral Health Initiative

Filed in Health Program News by on January 9, 2017

Photo of a little girl having her teeth exam by a dentist.

Oral Health is an integral component of overall health and well-being, however, essential healthcare information and services can be difficult to access for San Diego’s most vulnerable communities. The largest resettlement site in the state of California, San Diego is home to more than 150,000 refugees. As part of its ongoing efforts to conduct preventative health outreach and education, Nile Sisters Development Initiative (NSDI) is committed to addressing chronic conditions that burden refugee and immigrant communities.

NSDI believes that access to holistic, culturally sensitive health and wellness programs are necessary for our primary populations to reach their full potential and to thrive. In 2016, NSDI launched the ROHI, Refugee Oral Health Initiative program, in partnership with the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN). Through ROHI, NSDI aims to address oral health disparities that burden underrepresented and underserved populations.

A report» conducted by the California Department of Public Health indicates that 25% of newly-resettled refugees have been diagnosed with dental caries. These cavities are refugees’ primary preventable oral disease, often not treated until tertiary stages. Through community NSDI-conducted focus groups, participants revealed dental caries, gingivitis and failing teeth as their primary dental concerns.

Poor oral health is directly correlated with chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Recently-resettled refugees and other foreign-born populations who are Limited English Proficient (LEP) tend to have low literacy levels due to interrupted education or lack of formal education, and therefore generally have negative socioeconomic outcomes. Most reside in high poverty neighborhoods, marked by chronic food insecurity and limited access to healthy foods. This results in limited health literacy and an increased consumption of sugary and high fat foods and higher risk of developing chronic diseases.

Through collaboration with local community-based organizations and advocacy groups, NSDI aims to address oral health disparities by achieving the following goals:

Increase Oral Health Awareness

  • Advocate for policies that address oral health inequities among underserved populations in California
  • Develop low-literacy, culturally appropriate educational materials for target communities

Generate Disaggregated Data

  • Develop assessment tools to evaluate the oral health status of underrepresented populations
  • Coordinate focus groups and key informant interviews to strengthen the evidence-base regarding the oral health status of refugees

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