The aim was to explore and compare oral health and need for dental treatment in newly arrived refugees from the Middle East and Africa to Norway. Oral examination and structured interviews were performed with attending interpreters. Associations between origin and measures for oral health were studied with multiple linear regression. Half of the refugees (n = 132) reported oral impacts on daily performances (OIDP) and mean number of decayed teeth (DT) was 4.3 (SD 3.5). Refugees from the Middle East had more DT (1.38, p = 0.044), higher sum of decayed, missing and filled teeth (DMFT) (3.93, p = 0.001) and lower OIDP-score (− 3.72, p = 0.026) than refugees from Africa. Refugee oral health is generally poor, with more extensive challenges in refugees from the Middle East. However, few missing teeth, and manageable caries-gradient at the time of registration indicate that most refugees have the prerequisites for a good dentition, provided they get the necessary treatment.