A worker has had his first trip to the dentist at the age of 45 thanks to a UAE university initiative delivering free check-ups to needy residents.
Ajman University rolled out a mobile dental clinic in the emirate — and in parts of Ras Al Khaimah and Dubai — in October, with more than 270 people without dental service taking advantage of the community-spirited service.
Unlike in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, health insurance is not mandatory in the Northern Emirates, meaning many hard-up people haven't visited a dentist for years — if at all.
Everyone from low-income families and senior residents to labourers, orphans and inmates have been given free dental care as part of the campaign.
The idea for the mobile clinic was born in April last year, after the community service unit at the university teamed up with its faculty of dentistry with the aim of providing free medical services where it is most needed and to reach remote areas of the country to provide diagnostic and therapeutic services.
The mobile clinic held 10 drop-in sessions at locations such as Ajman Elderly Nursing Home, Umm Al Moumineen Women's Association, Ajman Correctional Centre and the Sudanese Society Club.
A total of 27 workers enjoyed free dental treatment when the mobile clinic made a stop at the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs in Ajman.
“I have never visited a dentist in my life and this will be the first time,” said Khaled Mahmoud, 45, from Pakistan.
“I suffer from sensitive teeth and I came to receive treatment for that and have a check-up.”
Another worker said he has been suffering pain in his teeth for three months but could not afford to visit a dentist.
“I feel pain when drinking cold water or hot drinks and I didn’t know what to do,” said Fahem Al Haq, a 39-year-old Pakistani, who works at the maintenance department of the General Directorate.
“I tried buying a different tooth paste but it didn’t ease the pain and I was very happy when they told us that a dental clinic would be here.”
Abul Khiar, a 32-year-old Bangladeshi cleaner, admitted this would be his first visit to the dentist since moving to the UAE seven years ago.
Northern Emirates renew call for mandatory health insurance
FNC questions minister over delays in health insurance law
Half of UAE residents cannot afford future health bills, Cigna survey reveals
Northern Emirates residents call for mandatory health care
“I have insurance but it doesn’t cover teeth problems and treating them is very expensive,” said Abul Khair.
The mobile facility features wheelchair access and boasts two dental clinics equipped with the latest equipment, an X-ray machine and a sterilisation device, all of which are in line with international standards.
Each clinic has one intern and one specialist from the College of Dentistry offering teeth scaling, polishing, temporary filling and consultation.
Sudanese families from Ajman Sudanese Society Club said they were thrilled to know that the clinic was coming to provide them with a free treatment.
Isam Al Zaaki, a Sudanese public relations representative, 49, said his last visit to the dentist cost him more than Dh600.
“My insurance doesn’t cover dental health and when I suffered from a toothache last time, I had to go to a private clinic to fix it and that cost me a lot,” said Mr Al Zaaki.
“I couldn’t go back again to change the temporary filling as it would cost me money, so I kept it and when they said a mobile clinic would visit the club I was very happy.”
Mr Al Zaaki, who was among the 70 people to benefit from the clinic services at the club, said he had his tooth filling changed at the mobile clinic and the dentists invited him and his family to benefit from more free dental services and treatments at the university campus.
“I didn’t know that they offer treatment at the university and I’m planning to book an appointment for me and my family,” said Mr Al Zaaki.
Dr Abdul Haq Al Nuaimi, vice chancellor for advancement and communication at the university, said the mobile clinic is part of the institute's role in providing free services to the community.
“We are proud that the mobile clinic is fully functioning and offering the best dental services and consultation to many people who are unable to commute or living in rural areas and those without dental insurance,” said Dr Al Nuaimi.
“We launched the first programme in October and now we will have different programmes each month that will also include school pupils and cover all the emirates,” he said.
Last year, the Ministry of Finance said plans are in place to introduce mandatory health cover in the Northern Emirates.
As yet there is no universal health cover for those living in Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah.
Mandatory health insurance was first introduced in Abu Dhabi in 2006, with a similar scheme brought into force in Dubai in 2013 and made health insurance mandatory for all workers and their dependents.