American Dental Association looks at rural dentistry program

Lack of dental care means Natives have 212 times more tooth decay than Americans as a whole

Posted: Sunday, March 28, 2004

FAIRBANKS - An Alaska tribal program to train rural residents to perform tasks usually done by dentists is under scrutiny by the American Dental Association.

"A dental degree in North America is basically an eight-year education. ... There are concerns," said Ty Ivey, a dentist on an ADA task force visiting Alaska to dental health care in the Bush.

Ivey was referring to a program that sent a dozen Bush residents to New Zealand for two years to learn, among other things, how to diagnose dental problems and to drill teeth.

Jeanine Tucker, a dental consultant for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, said rural Alaska Natives have 2 1/2 times more tooth decay than Americans as a whole. A primary reason is limited access to dental care.

That's partly why the dental health aide program was developed, Tucker said. Training ranges from fluoride treatments to fillings. The program, which is funded by private grants, provides five levels of training, said Ron Nagel, a program dentist. Only students in the highest level attend the Otago University School of Dentistry in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Once certified, those aides are under general supervision of a dentist and must be recertified every two years.

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