© 2015 Australian Dental Association. Background This study aimed to assess the early caries experience and the efficacy of a community based dental referral pathway in preschool refugees in Western Australia. Methods Preschool refugee children referred to the Western Australian paediatric hospital Refugee Health Clinic were prospectively screened for caries by a paediatric dentist before being referred to community dental clinics. Dental forms and medical records were audited to assess decayed, missing and filled teeth (dmft), medical data and dental services engagement. Poisson regression analysis determined the contribution of count variables to the final model. Results Among the 105 screened children (54% male, median age 3.2 years, 41% Burmese), community dental clinic engagement was low (46%, n = 48). Of the 62% with caries (n = 65/105, mean dmft 5.2, SD 4.1), 45% were recommended for specialist dental services and 48% were treated. After adjustment for age, gender and total number of teeth, caries incidence was significantly associated with BMI-for-Age Z score (p = 0.02). Conclusions Preschool refugee caries burden was high. The community dental referral pathway was ineffective compared to co-located intersectorial dental screening. Specialist dental service needs are high in this cohort and require a targeted approach.