Lower 48 communities and tribes have noticed the success of Alaska's Dental Health Therapist Program and they are following Alaska's lead. Read about it in this week's post.

2015 graduating DHATs

2015 graduating DHATs

The dramatic success of Alaska’s Dental Health Aide Therapist (DHAT) program in bringing dental care to rural Alaska has attracted attention and interest from all over the nation. This summer, dental therapists from lower 48 tribes begin training in Alaska to provide dental health services in their own communities.

Among the trainees at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) Educational Program is a member of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, of the Skagit Valley in Washington State. The Swinomish program was announced June 30, at the NCAI mid-year conference in St. Paul, MN, by Brian Cladoosby, Chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community.

“Alaska has seen great success in solving a Native problem with a Native solution. We want to export that success to our community, which is why we are sending a Swinomish Tribal member to Alaska this summer to begin her dental health aide therapy training,” Cladoosby said.

First year DHAT Students

First year DHAT Students

The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community is working in partnership with the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in a regional effort to bring new and innovative dental resources into the Pacific Northwest.

Confederate Tribes of Coos Bay, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians is also sponsoring a student in the Alaska DHAT program while the tribes await approval from the State of Oregon to launch that state’s first dental therapy pilot project.

Since 2006, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation has supported the efforts in Alaska to expand access to dental care by adding dental therapists to the dental team. ANTHC introduced the first successful dental therapist workforce in the United States. The DHAT Educational Program consists of a two-year, post-high school, competency-based primary care curriculum, incorporating innovative preventive and clinical strategies. Learn more about the DHAT program here.

Thanks to the program, 45,000 Alaskans now have regular access to dental care and approximately 21,000 Alaskans receive services each year. In 2014, 27 practicing dental therapists served patients in dental clinics and schools in 81 villages. Rasmuson Foundation has been supporting the DHAT program since 2002.

Since seeing Alaska’s success, states and tribes nationwide have sought to have dental therapists trained to practice in their own communities. Dental therapists have been practicing in Minnesota since 2011 and were authorized to practice in Maine last year.

Rasmuson Foundation and its DHAT partners have been working the past several years to enroll out-of-state students. Out-of-state students contribute to the DHAT program’s financial sustainability and to expansion of the DHAT model into the Lower 48. In related news, the DHAT training program received an Indian Health Service (IHS) Director’s Award for 2014. See news article.

The IHS Director’s Award recognizes individuals or teams whose service significantly advances the Indian Health Service’s mission and goals. The Dental Health Aide Therapist Program received an award for its “innovation, perseverance and leadership in improving access to safe and culturally competent dental care and addressing the significant oral health disparities across the Indian Health Service Areas.”