Jane Lelean spent a week treating people who were suffering terrible dental pain on the Greek Aegean island of Samos as part of a small team sent by the international dental charity Dentaid.
The charity is responding to the urgent need for dental care in Samos Camp where many people are on liquid diets and can’t eat because their toothache is so severe.
“The need was huge and they all needed teeth to be extracted,” said Jane. “We saw people from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Algeria, Afghanistan, Morocco and Pakistan and they had escaped the most brutal and terrible situations.
“It was awful hearing their stories and seeing people who had suffered so much violence.
“However, the clinics had a very calm atmosphere and the refugees were friendly, kind to each other and incredibly grateful. It means so much to them that people volunteer in the camps and want to help.”
Life in Samos Camp is cramped and tough with tents crammed together and more people arriving all the time. While the Dentaid team was there 63 new refugees arrived by boat after they were trafficked from Turkey.
“It is basically a prison with the gates open,” said Jane, who lives in Grendon Underwood and runs Healthy and Wealthy a business coaching programme for dental practices.
“After 26 days they are allowed to leave but there is nowhere to go. They are determined to get to mainland Greece and other parts of Europe and take all sorts of risks to get there. The atmosphere is one of desperation and optimism.”
To equip the clinic Dentaid sent portable dental equipment donated by practices in the UK. The trip was the first of many that Dentaid will run to Samos and the nearby island of Lesvos over the coming months.
“It was an incredibly rewarding, humbling experience,” said Jane.
“It was clinically challenging, very busy and about helping people out of pain as quickly as possible. One man who was in agony came back the next day to thank me and said he already felt better. Access to toothbrushes and toothpaste is patchy and many people don’t get the opportunity to brush their teeth.
“There is a huge dental need and it a fantastic that British dentists are helping because this is the only way the refugees will receive dental care.”
Dentaid was founded in 1996 and works to improve oral health around the world including in the UK. The charity runs volunteering trips across Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe as well as the Greek refugee camps. Dentaid restores donated dental equipment to send to dentists in the developing world and runs oral health education projects in the UK and overseas.