Dental disease has long been a serious public health problem among Alaska Native children, whose rates of tooth decay are 2.5 times the national average. Alaska children and families have some of the highest levels of oral disease in the country. Many rural residents receive no oral health care until they have a life threatening dental emergency. Some never receive care at all. The Foundation began the Oral Health Initiative in 2007 after learning about the problem from the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. The initiative goals were to:
• Educate and increase awareness of the Dental Health Aide Therapist model (DHAT), and demonstrate the positive health outcomes and economic benefits of mid-level dental providers;
• Engage and educate state-level oral health policy makers and funders, including those outside Alaska;
• Sponsor and expand the number of intensive dental outreach trips to rural Alaska.
Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) introduced the first successful dental therapist workforce in the United States. DHATs are trained in Alaska in a two-year, post-high school competency-based primary care curriculum, incorporating innovative preventive and clinical strategies. Rasmuson Foundation has been supporting the DHAT Program since 2002.
Because of the program, 40,000 Alaskans now have regular access to dental care and approximately 21,000 Alaskans receive services each year from an Alaska DHAT.
Beginning in early 2008, the Foundation partnered with NYU College of Dentistry Global Outreach program to bring high quality pediatric dental care to villages and regions in Alaska. NYU invited outreach teams from other leading dental schools to participate in the Alaska interventions.
Going forward, the Foundation continues to support dental health in rural Alaska from its established grant programs.