OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — As a 9-year-old in Sudan, Dhalbang Malua longed to have some of his teeth removed so girls would notice him. As a 36-year-old in the United States, he would like to have them back.
Removing teeth is a rite of passage and a symbol of attractiveness and maturity for some Sudanese tribes. As adults in the United States, they are finding that a nice smile is something prized.
“We know that people associate missing teeth with lower socioeconomic status, lower education, lower health standards and being less attractive. That’s impacted refugees,” said Mary S. Willis, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
She is spearheading an effort to help Sudanese refugees receive dental implants. Thirty Sudanese refugees will meet with psychologists, linguists and nutritionists to assess their lives before and after they receive the dental implants, which cost about $6,000 per person.
The program’s participants are evenly split between Dinka and Nuer tribes, both of which live in southern Sudan. The Dinka tribe removes six bottom front teeth, and the Nuer removes those teeth plus two upper teeth.