For Syria's displaced dental care comes on wheels

November 24, 2016

There's not much room to manoeuvre in Muhannad Qabtur's dental clinic at a camp for displaced Syrians near the Turkish border, because his spotless facility is run from a camper van.

The 36-year-old Syrian works tirelessly in the converted vehicle, offering dental care to some of the hundreds of thousands of living in the Azaz region, a rebel bastion in war-torn northern Aleppo province.

It is a world away from the clinic he managed before the war broke out in March 2011, where patients arrived for scheduled 45-minute appointments, and where Qabtur could take a break now and again.

"Now, everyone puts their name down when they arrive and as soon as I finish with one patient the next comes," said Qabtur.

"There's chaos, no organisation... There's no rest from the beginning of the day until the end of it."

But despite the pressure, Qabtur is happy to help, and sees his work as a way to give back to his country and people during a conflict that has killed over 300,000 people since it erupted.

"I didn't go abroad so I could help people, offer help to my people and my country, which need me," he said.

Before the clinic opened in October, with help from the Independent Doctors Association and Barada NGOs, Qabtur offered his services from little more than a mobile dentist's chair.

The camper van he now uses is certainly cramped but it has modern equipment like any ordinary .

Each day Qabtur sees up to a dozen patients in the Al-Rayan camp, performing routine treatments and minor surgeries like extractions for some of the 350,000 people living in the region.

Patients settle back into a light green chair as the dentist and his female assistant, in crisp white jackets, adjust the overhead light and get to work.

He also travels to other camps in the area, but does not charge his patients, receiving instead a monthly fee from the Independent Doctors Association.

Helping people in need

On a recent day, some 20 patients, mainly women and children, lined up outside the mobile clinic and waited to register with Qabtur's assistant.

Inside, Qabtur greets them with a smile and some jokes to put the nervous younger children at ease before pulling a medical mask over his mouth, covering his light grey stubble.

One of his first patients is a young girl wearing a headscarf dotted with purple flowers.

From a distance, the vehicle looks like an ordinary camper van, but up close its purpose becomes clear, thanks to a giant logo plastered on its side, featuring a sparkling white tooth in a green circle.

"The importance of my work is in helping people in terrible conditions," Qabtur said, adding that his patients are "like family".

Syria's conflict has displaced over half the population, with millions fleeing abroad, but many more forced to find shelter inside the country despite the ongoing violence.

Aleppo province has seen some of the country's worst violence, and thousands of people have taken refuge in camps like Al-Rayan.

Unlike many of his countrymen who have fled Syria's harrowing war, Qabtur, a father to two girls, chose to stay put.

"I could have emigrated and lived peacefully like other doctors, but I chose to stay, to live and to die by the side of my people, to live and die in my country."

With the war approaching its sixth year, there is little sign of a political solution to end the conflict and Qabtur said he is not focused on the future for now.

"I don't think about what will happen after the war. I want this war to end, but for the moment, I want to treat people with what I have at my disposal," he said.

"I have no other ambitions than that."

Explore further: Most nursing home patients refuse dental care during stay, study concludes

Related Stories

Most nursing home patients refuse dental care during stay, study concludes

November 22, 2016
Nearly 90 percent of patients at long-term care facilities don't take advantage of dental services, even when they are free, a recent study by University at Buffalo researchers has found.

Officials: Patients of dental clinic should get HIV tests

July 25, 2016
Patients treated at a Tennessee dental clinic should get tested for hepatitis B and C, and HIV after problems with infection control could have put thousands of people at risk for the diseases, health officials said Monday.

New self-help guide for kids could stop fear of the dentist

November 2, 2016
The number of children with phobias of the dentist could be reduced as experts create the first self-help guide designed to encourage young children to face their fears.

Void in mental health care for refugees an urgent issue, says psychiatrist

June 20, 2016
Refugees fleeing war and conflict find shelter but little solace in camps erected to house them, according to Richard Mollica, who heads the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma (HPRT).

Diaspora doctors heed homeland calling on Aleppo front line

August 17, 2012
A few days ago, Hazem left his wife and 11-month-old son in England and flew to Turkey with another Syrian-born doctor from Manchester to offer help on the front line in Aleppo.

WHO launches anti-cholera drive in conflict-torn S.Sudan

February 22, 2014
The World Health Organisation began a campaign on Saturday to prevent outbreaks of cholera in temporary camps in South Sudan housing thousands of people who have fled the country's brutal two-month-old conflict.

Recommended for you

Understanding genetic synergy in cleft palate

July 19, 2017
Like all of the individual elements of fetal development, palate growth is a marvel of nature. In part of this process, ledges of tissue on the sides of the face grow downwards on each side of the tongue, then upward, fusing ...

Use of prefabricated blood vessels may revolutionize root canals

June 12, 2017
While root canals are effective in saving a tooth that has become infected or decayed, this age-old procedure may cause teeth to become brittle and susceptible to fracture over time. Now researchers at OHSU in Portland, Oregon, ...

Recreational cannabis, used often, increases risk of gum disease

May 24, 2017
Columbia University dental researchers have found that frequent recreational use of cannabis—including marijuana, hashish, and hash oil—increases the risk of gum disease.

Grape seed extract could extend life of resin fillings

May 9, 2017
A natural compound found in grape seed extract could be used to strengthen dentin—the tissue beneath a tooth's enamel—and increase the life of resin fillings, according to new research at the University of Illinois at ...

Crooked bite may indicate early life stress

April 13, 2017
Research has repeatedly confirmed that the first 1,000 days after conception strongly influence a person's life expectancy and susceptibility to chronic diseases. The primary marker used to identify early life stress is low ...

New study identifies successful method to reduce dental implant failure

March 24, 2017
According to the American Academy of Implant Dentistry (AAID), 15 million Americans have crown or bridge replacements and three million have dental implants—with this latter number rising by 500,000 a year. The AAID estimates ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.