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Dental professor takes 12th trip to Syrian refugee camps, treats more than 1,000 children

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Mon, Aug 22nd 2016 02:20 pm

Dentist gathering support to launch mobile dental clinic, expand educational programs for refugees during October visit to Lebanon

By the University at Buffalo

Every few months, Othman Shibly performs what some consider to be a miracle.

The Lebanese-born University at Buffalo dental professor travels regularly to refugee camps in the countries neighboring Syria to establish dental clinics, open schools and deliver needed medical supplies.

His most recent endeavor: Providing dental care in five days to more than 1,000 children living in Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon.

The weeklong undertaking in May was a part of Shibly's Miles for Smiles mission to bring oral health care to the student refugees who lack access to treatment due to the ongoing Syrian war.

The effort received support from nearly 100 volunteers from the Saint Joseph University School of Dental Medicine in Lebanon, a handful of dentists from the U.S., and a donation of $20,000 worth of materials from health care products provider Henry Schein.

The group treated hundreds of children per day, performing temporary fillings, sealants, fluoride varnishes and more. Each child also received oral health education, a toothbrush, toothpaste and other dental supplies.

"We brought together people of different cultures, backgrounds and religions, and they all worked together for this noble cause," said Shibly, a clinical professor in the UB School of Dental Medicine.

The effort recently earned Shibly the Ibn Al-Nafees Outstanding Achievement Award from the Syrian American Medical Society. He was presented the award on July 24 at the SAMS 16th International Conference in Sarajevo, Bosnia.

"Dr. Shibly's outstanding work to help those affected by ongoing conflict has been an inspiration to our faculty, students and staff," said Joseph Zambon, D.D.S., Ph.D., dean of the School of Dental Medicine. "We are all proud to see another example of how the school is achieving its vision of 'defining excellence in global health.' "

Miles for Smiles began in December, when Shibly traveled with his daughter to Lebanon to donate more than 500 books to schools within the camps to establish an English language curriculum.

The director of the Education Program in Lebanon (EPL), the administration that oversees schools in Lebanon's refugee camps, asked Shibly if he could donate toothbrushes and toothpaste as well, as many students didn't have the basic tools for oral hygiene.

Knowing a toothbrush wouldn't solve the schools' oral health needs, Shibly went a step further by arranging to treat every child in each camp, a daunting task, as some children required extractions or other emergency treatments, nearly half had gingivitis, and close to 10 percent of them had an infection, Shibly said.

To prepare for the journey, Shibly worked with the EPL to pre-screen for the oral health needs of students in five schools spread throughout camps in Saadnayel, Bekaa Valley and Bar Elias - all areas in eastern Lebanon. SAMS arranged travel and food for the group.

"We were happy to do it," Shibly said. "When examining the children, some who have been in the camp for five years said that they have never brushed their teeth. When we told them to be careful about eating candy, some kids raised their hands and asked us what is chocolate."

7 Weeks to Another Mission of Support

Shibly will return to Lebanon in October and work with Saint Joseph University and other local universities to treat more children in other camps, and expand dental care to include adults.

He also plans to establish a mobile dental clinic that can be driven between camps to provide care in the area. The mobile clinic would allow dentists to treat infections and perform extractions and other extensive treatments on site, rather than having to transport children to dental offices that have the necessary equipment in nearby towns.

During future visits, Shibly said he hoped to offer access to maxillofacial surgery - a specialization to treat diseases and injuries to the mouth, jaws and face - through a partnership with Doctors Without Borders and local universities.

In addition to dental care, Shibly's efforts in the region also focus on education, as millions of children - who make up half of the displaced Syrian population - were forced to quit school.

He has helped establish 15 schools in Damascus, the capital of Syria. These schools, which provide elementary through secondary studies, have taught more than 5,000 children.

"Education brings hope to the children and their families," Shibly said. "Families are immigrating, because they don't see a future for their children in Syria. Education is the most effective way to help them rebuild their home. It ensures the children have a better future, it saves them from disintegration intellectually and spiritually, and it keeps them from becoming the future seed of extremism."

Shibly is building support through partnerships to offer more English-education curriculums and catch-up programs for students who have missed time in school due to the war. Many of his students are also in need of backpacks, uniforms and school supplies.

To learn how to assist Shibly's humanitarian efforts in Syria and the surrounding regions affected by ongoing conflict, contact [email protected] or 716-829-3845.

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