Pulling teeth: A dental nurse reflects on her experiences in Dunkirk and Calais

Author: Rachel, Dental Nurse

Last Friday (20 November) I packed up all my warm clothes and set off to meet up with some strangers from the internet who were on their way to the refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk. I had heard about how bad conditions there were and wanted to do something to help – I’m a dental nurse in the UK and had managed to get in touch with a dentist on Facebook who would be providing emergency dental treatment in the camps that weekend.

Seeing photos and reading other people’s reports gave me some idea of what to expect, but the desperate reality and scale of the crisis only really hit once I was there.

We arrived in a storm and set up our “surgery” in a donated caravan. No patients arrived at first – anyone who wasn’t busy queuing was probably hidden in their tent, hanging on and hoping it didn’t blow away.  Word soon spread though, and we spent much of the day placing temporary fillings and extracting teeth that couldn’t be saved. Some people would chat and share their stories while we waited for them to go numb. Many of them only wore flip-flops and thin, wet socks.

The next day we drove to the Dunkirk camp. The situation there is even worse than Calais – over 1000 people are living in tents in the mud. They have nothing. The community tent we worked in alongside medics and other volunteers had only just been built.

I walked around the camp giving out toothbrushes and toothpaste to the children while we waited for some equipment we needed to start treatment. One group of men joked around, laughing as their friend peered out from his tent mimicking a baby’s cries when they heard I had things for children. Another man shrugged apologetically and told me he had “No children here – my children are dead”.

Those are the moments that stand out most to me; the experiences and emotions that highlight our shared humanity in the face of the massive difference in the way we are able to live. The inequality makes me so angry. There are already some amazing people doing what they can to help, but so much more is needed.


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Non-league fans in solidarity with refugees Follow us on Twitter @dulwich2dunkirk

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