Swinomish Becomes First tribe in the Lower 48 to Use Dental Therapists to Address Oral Health Crisis in Indian Country

Supported by a W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant in partnership with the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community program is modeled on a successful oral healthcare delivery model used by Alaska Native communities for over 10 years.

Representatives from the W.K Kellogg Foundation with NPAIHB members Joe Finkbonner and Jim Roberts.

Representatives from the W.K Kellogg Foundation with NPAIHB members Joe Finkbonner and Jim Roberts.

“Today we stand with the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community,” said Joe Finkbonner, Executive Director of the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board. “We applaud the leadership, dedication and courage that has resulted in this historic occasion, and we look forward to continued partnership turning the tide on oral health disparities in this community and throughout the Portland Area.”

Oral health research shows that historical traumas have caused Indians to lead the nation in oral disease rates. By age five, 75 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives experience tooth decay. Recent Federal statistics for Washington, Oregon and Idaho show that Indian children suffer tooth decay at three times the national average. Low-dentist-to-patient ratios in Indian Country mean that many Indians lack access to regular dental treatment and prevention services. Turnover among providers in Indian Country interrupts continuity of care and inhibits the delivery of culturally competent services.

DHATs were first certified to practice in Alaska more than 10 years ago by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. The program today has expanded care to more than 45,000 Alaska Natives in need of preventive and restorative care. Dental therapists were also authorized to practice in Minnesota in 2011 and in Maine last year. Attempts to authorize them in Washington have failed repeatedly because of political opposition from organized dentistry.

In June, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community began working in partnership with the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board to bring this new and innovative dental resource into the Pacific Northwest. This past summer, a Swinomish Tribal member was sent to Alaska to begin her two year dental health aide therapy training.

CORRECTION: In the lead photo, the boy in the dental chair is AnthonyCladoosby. not Issac Cladoosby as originally stated. Corrected on Tuesday, January 5, 2016,  10:04 p.m. – EST.

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  1. Lena Toledo 3 years ago
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