A Law Backing Tribal Sovereignty Is Answer to Expanding Oral Health

Mark Trahant

But in Olympia, Alan Wicks, general counsel for the Washington State Dental Association, testified that “it’s not a question of tribal sovereignty; it’s a question of federal law.” He pointed out that the Indian Health Care Improvement Act authorizes the Alaska program and prohibits mid-level practice anywhere else in Indian country unless that state offers mid-level profession.

But what Wicks failed to say is that the reason for this prohibition was that the American Dental Association lobbied to make it so. This was a legislative attack on tribal sovereignty.

And this is a prohibition that makes no sense given the challenges ahead.

As National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby recently wrote in Indian Country Today Media Network: “Our population is still underserved. We do not have enough chairs and dentists to service the people who come into our clinic. We reviewed our charts and found that about half of our work could easily be done by dental therapists, and it would take a huge burden off the dentists.”

RELATED: A Tribal Leader Speaks Out About Dental

Tribes are meeting later this week at NCAI to talk about new steps to push the mid-level provider issue forward. It’s clear that dental health therapy works in Alaska — and the same idea could improve oral health across Indian country. Plus it meets the larger health care tests, improving quality and lowering costs.

Mark Trahant is the 20th Atwood Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is a journalist, speaker and Twitter poet and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Comment on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/TrahantReports.


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denturist2th's picture
Submitted by denturist2th on
The dental workforce issues are more relevant than ever. Specifically, the need for change in ADAs existing ill-fated & outdated polices currently in place on workforce issues regarding denturists. We need denturists; providing removable oral prostheses care and referral services, freeing up dental chairtime for children, emergencies, and restorative care. The needed action of progressive and innovative dental workforce models includes denturists, dental therapists, dental health aide therapists, and independent practices and boards for dental hygienists for better public health service. As the debate continues over the indispensability of dental therapists I’m reminded of the rhetoric similarities by ADA and its opposition to the use of denturists back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Unlike ADA’s claim regarding the lack of working models showing the success of dental therapists or dental health aide therapists, there are several evidence based working models associated with six U.S. states along with all Canadian Providences showing the success of the denturist profession and its ability to work, leaving no logical reason why denturists shouldn't be providing denture and referral services for Americans across our nation. The dental therapist concept has been a military concept and working model in branches of the U.S. military, providing oral health services to large numbers of recruits and military personnel (patients), especially when there were fewer dentists. Open the flood gates of oral healthcare providers for all Americans across our nation, through more affordable and alternative delivery methods and models. Denturists are trained, educated, and ready to serve. Gary W. Vollan L.D. State Coordinator, Wyoming State Denturist Association, www.wysda.org https://twitter.com/denturist2th