Dental report

Posted: January 31, 2023

CRRC has published a new report Painful misalignment: Investigating access to NHS dental care for refugee families in Cambridgeshire, written by Brandi Leech with support from many of our refugee families and other CRRC volunteers. This is an extensive report and is supported by our MP Daniel Zeichner (you can see his letter in the report itself).

Read the report (560 kB PDF file)


The Cambridge Refugee Resettlement Campaign (CRRC) supports the resettlement of refugees in the Cambridge area. In recent years, CRRC has witnessed the growing problem of accessing dental care amongst the families whom we support. The problem has recently become so acute that the charity undertook an investigation to better understand the challenges around accessing dental care for refugees in Cambridgeshire, and the impact that it has on their lives.

The situation in Cambridgeshire is worse than some other areas of the UK with no dental practices accepting new NHS patients and a low number of NHS dentists for the number of people in our region. Restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic made problems of access more acute, but the problem of limited access to care was growing worse before the pandemic and solving it will require creative solutions.

Resettled refugees currently living in Cambridgeshire come largely from Syria, Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan, with increasing numbers arriving from Ukraine. Their needs are diverse, and influenced by their experiences in their home country, their transition experience, and their experience upon arrival in the UK. Some arrive having experienced regular dental care throughout their lives, while others will have had little or interrupted care, having spent years in refugee camps prior to arriving in our community.

Evidence from the families who we interviewed shows a clear pattern. Those that arrived prior to the outbreak of the pandemic were all helped to register with an NHS dental practice by their local authority caseworker. It is one of the core functions of the local authority under their funding agreement with central government to facilitate early access to medical services. Those arriving for resettlement since the end of 2019 have been unable to register with an NHS dentist even with the help of a local authority caseworker.

Families that are not registered with a dental practice report more severe dental problems than those who are registered, with (83%) of unregistered families reporting dental problems including broken teeth, persistent dental pain, bleeding gums, and tooth decay.

However, being registered with a practice does not guarantee access to dental care, and refugee families may face additional barriers to receiving timely treatment for their problems. The families we interviewed reported various barriers to accessing dental care. Common barriers include a lack of appointments, a lack of translation services, transportation issues, and the high cost of some services.

Additionally, COVID-19 interrupted routine dental care and caused some families to lose their registered status.

Some refugees reported turning to Dental Access Centres for treatment because they were unable to get care through regular NHS dentists. However, they found Dental Access Centres were not an effective solution because they are overwhelmed by demand, and refugee families may need additional support navigating automated phone systems, with English language translation, or with transportation.

The experiences of the families supported by CRRC highlight some of the most pressing issues facing families in need of dental care in Cambridgeshire. Confronted with an inability to register with a dental practice, a lack of appointments, overwhelmed emergency services, and inadequate provisions for foreign language support, refugee families with unmet dental care needs have few options.

It is our hope that by calling attention to how the dental care crisis affects resettling refugee families in our community that we can assist those responsible in bringing about changes to improve the system for everyone.

Read the report (560 kB PDF file)