Voices from the Field
This article was produced and provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
What is it like to be a dental therapist, or to work with one? A dentist, dental hygienist, and dental therapist discuss the expanded dental teams now working in Alaska Native villages.
Aurora Johnson, DHAT, Dental Health Aide Therapist based in Unalakleet, AK
Living in a village where dental care only came once a year and dental products were not a priority in many homes, I was very fortunate that at a very young age I had someone in my life to encourage me to take care of my teeth. Now as a dental provider myself I make it a priority to make dental products available for kids at all school sites. It has been nearly seven years and when I first started the kids were half my size and now they are taller than me. Each year as I provide care to the kids in the communities I am building a relationship of trust with the continuity of care. As a DHAT I believe our preventive care has helped to fight the enormous decay rate we have in our region. Work- ing together with other entities in our communities, such as the schools, can only better our program toward improved oral health.
Robert J. Allen, DDS Dentist and DHAT instructor based in Bethel, AK
We’re in contact with DHATs out in the villages on a daily basis, par- ticularly if there are difficult cases, via telemedicine equipment and a shared electronic charting system. So if they take a photo or x-ray we can look at it here in Bethel. They can tell us what they have observed, and we can help them decide whether it’s something they can handle or not. They are very good about that. They are trained to know the limits of their scope of service.
Through the years, we tried all kinds of programs to prevent cavities. Really, the dental therapists are the best hope for the caries epidemic. One of the reasons is that the dentists come and go, but the therapists are usually from rural Alaska. So in many ways they almost become a foundation for the dental program, be-cause they’re the stable part.
I would say to other dentists that ther- apists offer an extra set of hands to see more patients and do more work. Trying to get a dental appointment is difficult no matter where you are in Indian Country, so by having more providers, we will be able to care for more people.
Monica Pasquale Rueben, RDH Dental hygienist based in Fairbanks, AK
I to the Big Sun/Little Bear clan. I graduated from the dental hygiene program at the Univer- sity of New Mexico in Albuquerque. I initially went to Alaska in 1999 with the U.S. Public Health Service for a tour that I thought would last two years, but have stayed for nearly 14, so I guess I’m here for good! I first met DHATs when they came through the training program in Fairbanks, and now I work with them during my village trips to 10 of the 26 rural communities we serve in the Interior of Alaska. I support the DHAT program. It allows our patients to receive dental treatment in their home village which helps them save on travel, time and money. The DHATs are a big asset in the rural communities. With DHATs on board as part of the dental team, we can provide access to care for more patients.