Published January 5, 2016
SWINOMISH, WASHINGTON – Leading the effort to address the oral health crisis in Indian Country, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community on Monday became the first tribe in the Lower 48 states to employ a dental therapist to provide basic oral health services.
“There are too few dentists in Indian Country,” said Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community. “We cannot stand by any longer and allow Native people to continue to suffer tooth decay at a rate three times the national average. We have developed a tribal approach to solve a tribal issue. This solution will help our people immediately address their oral health needs in ways that have not been possible until today.”
The Swinomish Tribal Community had a dental caseload of 3,000 patients last year. Having a dental therapist on staff will allow for faster and quicker service for patients, who will not have to wait to be treated by a dentist.
Although dental therapists – known as dental health aide therapists (DHATs) in the Alaska Native program – are banned from providing many basic dental services in Washington and most other states, the Swinomish Tribe has licensed and employed a dental therapist on the Tribe’s reservation as an exercise of their inherent tribal sovereignty. With too many Swinomish Tribal members – particularly children – suffering unnecessarily and potentially facing life-threatening conditions because they lack access to dental care, dental therapist Daniel Kennedy joined the Swinomish Dental Clinic team to help ensure that all Tribal members have access to reliable, high-quality and culturally competent dental care.
Similar to nurse practitioners and physician assistants, dental therapists are highly trained mid-level dental providers who expand the capacity of dentists by delivering a number of routine and preventive dental services, including fillings and simple extractions.