Montana Clinics Chip Away at Refugees’ Obstacles to Dental Care

by | Jun 15, 2023 | Health

MISSOULA, Mont. — Yu Yu Htwe had never had dental problems, so she was surprised when a dentist told her she had three cavities at her first appointment in this small city in western Montana.

Htwe, 38, is from Myanmar and worked as an OB-GYN there until a military coup overthrew the government in February 2021. Alongside other medical workers, she participated in a civil disobedience movement against the military, and, fearing reprisal, fled the country with her husband and young daughter.

Htwe and her family spent six months in Thailand before they resettled in Missoula as refugees early last year. That move around the globe took less time than the eight months she waited to get a dental appointment after arriving in Montana.

“In my country, dental care is not like it is here,” said Htwe, who is now a community health worker at Partnership Health Center in Missoula. “Here we need to wait for dental care. In Myanmar, it’s not like that. We can go at any time when we need a consultation or something.”

Refugee advocates in Montana hear stories like Htwe’s often. And these stories are similar to what low-income people can contend with across the U.S. Long wait times for dental appointments, high costs, and finding dentists willing to take new Medicaid patients make access to dental care difficult.

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