This week, a very time-sensitive post: During the past five years, more than 700 rural Alaskans have been treated by volunteer dental teams comprised of clinical instructors, professors, pediatric residents, sub-specialty residents and dental students from schools in Arizona, New York and Louisiana. While focused on children, in some villages the teams will treat nearly every resident. And for some communities, like Venetie, the teams are the first dentists in their communities for years. Despite funds committed by Rasmuson Foundation to support future visits, this program is under threat of cancellation as soon as Monday. Read more here.
Great news today from the Board of Dental Examiners meeting! The Board affirmed their commitment to extend courtesy licenses that allow out of state dentists to practice dentistry in underserved communities on a volunteer basis. The Board also agreed to streamline the application for academic-based dental programs with dental students to prevent barriers and delays in future visits. We appreciate the Board’s quick action to keep this important program moving forward.
A problem in many – if not most – rural villages is lack of regular, routine dental care and prevention strategies. The result is high rates of dental decay among rural children, and dental problems that go untreated until extensive and expensive treatment is required. It is not uncommon that children need extensive dental work requiring general anesthesia and surgery.
As part of a broad initiative by Rasmuson Foundation to address oral health in rural Alaska, villages in western, interior and southeast Alaska have been on the receiving end of some welcome dental blitzes. Between February 2008 and December 2011, dental teams have been to Kasigluk, Fort Yukon, Venetie, Beaver, Circle, Arctic Village and Yakutat. More than 700 Alaskans have been treated, nearly half of them children.
Despite the tremendous impact of these outreach trips, they are at risk of being discontinued on Monday.
New York University College of Dentistry (NYU) provides oral health services in underserved and at-risk communities around the world through its Global Outreach Program. For the Alaska outreach, NYU partnered with Louisiana State University and the A.T. Still/Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health. The emphasis has been on providing pediatric dentistry, although adult patients are also treated. All dental services are provided pro bono by the participants – clinical instructors, professors, pediatric residents, sub-specialty residents and dental students.
Rasmuson Foundation has awarded a total $225,000 to NYU over a 5-year period to support costs of travel and shipping dental supplies and equipment. The Foundation has made funding commitments to the program until 2014.
Kasigluk was the site of the first NYU Rural Alaska Dental Outreach Program. In February 2008, a team led by NYU’s Dr. Stuart Hirsch was able to treat 150 children. An NYU video of the Kasigluk trip gives a fascinating glimpse of the complex logistics involved, watch it here.
Outreach teams bring in all their own supplies and, depending on the facilities available, may use school gyms and classrooms. They use stacking chairs, tables, and even laps. Their work is a blitz – they can have 9 or 10 chairs going at once, for 10 hours a day. That’s how the teams are able to treat so many patients in such a short time.
Another NYU video focuses on one of the group’s outreach trips to Fort Yukon and Venetie where the team completed 120 pediatric visits in five days. Watch it here.
In late May and early June, 2009, Dr. Stuart Hirsch, NYU vice dean of international initiatives and development, led a pediatric dental outreach to Fort Yukon and Venetie. In cooperation with the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments and the Yukon Flats Health Center, the outreach team treated 56 children and 91 adults in Ft. Yukon, 31 children and 52 adults in Venetie, and another 15 patients flown in from Circle and Arctic Village.
In a June 4 email to the Foundation, Dr. Hirsch commented: “We are treating the patients in Venetie in the gym. A dentist has not visited the village in more than 3 years. The needs are great . . . We are making arrangements (through Head Start) to see the 3-5 year olds in the future. Early intervention could be a key to successful oral health for these children. Previously, many children with extensive needs end up in Anchorage either hospitalized or worse.”
A year later, an outreach team returned to Fort Yukon and Venetie, and traveled to Arctic Village and Circle. In that two-week period, they treated 165 children and 164 adults.
The most recent outreach was to Yakutat in December 2011. It marked the fourth visit by NYU College of Dentistry. The pediatric clinic saw 71 children and 64 adult patients. NYU shared a gallery of photos from the trip on Facebook, see them here.
But, unfortunately, these dental outreach trips may come to an end.
At the December 2011 meeting of the Alaska Board of Dental Examiners, the board began questioning whether they would continue to issue courtesy licenses that make these dental school-based outreach trips possible. Rasmuson Foundation, along with partners from Alaska Native Health Board and the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments are appealing to the Board of Dental Examiners during their Monday, May 14, meeting.
Currently, a trip by the Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health for mid-April back to the Fort Yukon region was cancelled. A trip scheduled by NYU for the fall of 2012 is also in question.