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Ethn Health. 2015;20(3):241-57. doi: 10.1080/13557858.2014.907391. Epub 2014 Apr 17.

Breaking down the barriers: a qualitative study to understand child oral health in refugee and migrant communities in Australia.

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a Healthy Mothers Healthy Families Research Group , Murdoch Childrens Research Institute , Parkville , Australia.



Australia is an increasingly multicultural nation. Never before has the dental workforce been exposed to such language, cultural, religious and ethnic diversity. There is evidence that refugee and migrant children experience significantly poorer oral health than the nonmigrant population. However, little is known about the oral health knowledge, practices and beliefs of parents with young children from refugee and migrant backgrounds. The aim of this study was to identify the sociocultural influences on child oral health in these communities.


Participatory and qualitative research methods were utilised. Partnerships were established with community agencies representing migrants from Iraq, Lebanon and Pakistan. Focus group discussions and semi-structured interviews were conducted with community members. Qualitative data were analysed thematically, combining focus group and interview data.


Over 100 women participated in focus groups (n = 11) and semi-structured interviews (n = 7). Key findings included the knowledge, beliefs and practices concerning: caries risk factors, oral health practices and oral health literacy. Despite mothers' knowledge of the major causes of poor oral health - dietary changes, confusion about child oral hygiene practices and limited oral health literacy all influenced child oral health outcomes.


This culturally competent qualitative study explores the sociocultural factors influencing child oral health in refugee and migrant communities. Understanding and acknowledging these factors are a prerequisite to determining where and how to intervene to improve oral health. Furthermore, it has implications for both dental and non-dental health professionals working to reduce health inequalities within such communities.


child oral health; cultural competence; health beliefs; migrant; qualitative research; refugee

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