“Teeth So Rotten They Can’t Eat”: Dental Gaps for Afghans at Fort McCoy


Just over a week after Baber Shah Dorani, 24, arrived at Fort McCoy, western Wisconsin on September 1 after fleeing Afghanistan, his teeth began to ache.

He waited a few weeks for the pain to subside, but it got worse. In mid-October, he went to the base medical clinic, but there was no dentist. Medical staff gave him ibuprofen – which he said didn’t help – and a gel that, when applied, eased the pain, but only for about 10 minutes, Dorani said.

A few days later, Dorani returned to the clinic. Still no dentist. On Wednesday, the third time, medical staff told Dorani that a dentist had arrived this weekend, but would have to wait another 10 to 15 days or more before they could fill both cavities.

“Two of them have a big hole,” Dorani said of his teeth, noting that a third tooth hurt. “(They) should be deleted. “

For nearly two months, the approximately 13,000 Afghan evacuees staying at Fort McCoy have not had access to a dentist, according to interviews with several Afghan evacuees. Only one dentist has arrived in the past week or so, but getting an appointment can take weeks or more. The Wisconsin State Journal spoke to four Afghans, including Dorani, who said they were struggling to get dental care as their teeth continued to decay.

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Arzo Yousofzai, an Afghan woman staying at Fort McCoy, said she had a hole in one of her teeth and could only consume liquids, not solids. On a scale of 1 to 10, she said the pain in her tooth would be a 9. When she tries to eat, the pain is a 10 or an 11.

“I feel very tired because I cannot eat,” Yousofzai said. “I’m hungry all the time.”

“Inhuman treatment”

After the clothing and food shortages in September, the sluggishness of dental treatment is the latest example of a tendency for Fort McCoy personnel to be “overwhelmed” by the number of evacuees they have been tasked with dealing with, said US Army combat veteran Ilene Henderson, who has Afghan friends on the base.

“Their teeth are so rotten that they can’t eat,” said Henderson. “It is inhumane treatment.”

Task Force McCoy surgeon Colonel Matthew Fandre said Afghans had access to dental treatment at the medical clinic – the clinic where Dorani received ibuprofen and topical gel. Yousofzai also said the two pain relievers he was given “don’t work” and Afghans have to queue for hours at the clinic unless they go early in the morning or late at night.

Fandre said the clinic is open 24/7 and same-day appointments are available.

“Task Force McCoy is providing dental care for the acute and urgent care needs of Afghan guests and military personnel at Fort McCoy,” Fandre said in an October 12 email. “The base will add additional dental services to support Afghan guests in the coming weeks. “

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A Defense Ministry spokesperson said on Friday that additional dental care had now been added, but did not confirm whether that included a dentist.

“The Fort McCoy Task Force has now established a dental capacity for acute dental care to meet the additional dental needs of our Afghan guests should cases arise,” the spokesperson said.

Tears of pain

Waheed, who worked as an interpreter alongside Henderson in Afghanistan, picked up the dentist on Sunday so his wife, Zahra, could have her cavity treated. Waheed has requested that his family be identified by their first names only because his work helping the United States makes him a target of the Taliban.

Zahra can still eat, but she can only chew on one side. She has trouble sleeping because of the pain and sometimes when she drinks liquids she starts to cry because of the sensitivity of her teeth to hot and cold, Waheed said.

“When is the dentist coming here?” Waheed asked a member of the medical clinic staff on Sunday afternoon. He walked into the clinic while on the phone with a State Journal reporter.

“Here? I think they’re working to get one here,” a woman from the clinic replied. “But there is a dentist. I will look for the building for you.

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Waheed and Zahra went to the building with the dentist, but staff said they needed an appointment for Zahra to seek treatment. He returned to the clinic to set one up, waited about an hour, and obtained an “emergency paper” so Zahra could see the dentist.

Back at the dental building, the dentist assessed Zahra and told them the clinic would contact him when she returned to have the cavity filled.

Although the dentist has not given him a schedule, Waheed is hopeful that Zahra can be treated soon, possibly in the next few days. But he was frustrated that it had taken him almost three weeks to feel pain and at least four visits to the medical clinic to finally see the dentist.

Waheed also said that one dentist is not enough to meet the needs of grassroots Afghans. While waiting for the dentist, he said staff told others in the waiting room that there were around 300 Afghans on the waiting list to see the dentist.

Non-basic care?

Fandre said that “all care that cannot be provided by the Fort McCoy medical team is obtained in the local community by the health care providers.” But getting out of the basics for treatment has been a challenge.

A 19-year-old Afghan woman, who asked not to be identified for the safety of her family in Afghanistan, said in early October that three of her teeth hurt so much that she could not sleep. She could only drink liquids.

“It hurts a lot,” she said. “When I eat I feel a lot of pain.”

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Throughout September, she and a friend went to “the mayor’s” three times to inquire about her tooth, three times to the commandant, and five times to the medical clinic. They all told her that there was nothing she could do with her teeth other than give her medicine.

Finally, the week of October 13, she was able to visit a local dentist outside the base, but this was only possible thanks to friends outside of the base who found a local dentist to. perform all three root canals for free, said a 25-year-old man from Afghanistan who was helping the 19-year-old.

Those ‘after us’

The 25-year-old, who also asked not to be identified to avoid endangering her family in Afghanistan, said she worried about people with cavities who don’t have friends outside . She said staff at Fort McCoy were not getting people to the dentist quickly enough.

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Afghans are now resettled across the United States “on a daily basis,” the Department of Homeland Security said, so those waiting for their teeth to be treated may not have to wait long. They could be treated by an outside dentist once relocated.

But another group of Afghans arrived at Fort McCoy on Oct. 11, the Department of Homeland Security said, declining to say how many. The 25-year-old said those who come next need access to a dentist and shouldn’t have to ask five or six times to be seen.

“I hope there will be a dentist,” she said. “I hope they do something.”

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