DHAT News & Articles

Using Innovative Models to Address Oral Health Needs in Indian Country


The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community announced steps it will be taking to bring an innovative mid-level dental provider model to its Nation.

National Indian Health Board Executive Director Stacy Bohlen applauded the Tribe’s actions and shared, “Indian Country suffers from a severe shortage of dental care providers with many Tribal citizens going without regular and preventive care. Given these barriers to access, it is no surprise that American Indian and Alaska Native communities experience higher rates of disease than many segments of the general population. Today, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community took action to address the situation. We congratulate them on these steps, and we congratulate their Tribal citizens on what promises to be better oral health for all.”

Better oral health, brings many benefits. Because oral disease impacts many aspects of everyday life, improvements in oral health can improve school attendance, the ability of adults to work, and the ability to eat healthy food.  Poor oral health also correlates with other conditions, and improved oral health may positively affect the incidence of cardiovascular disease, susceptibility to infection, and the complications of diabetes.  

In finding solutions to the issue of access to care, Tribes have crafted a number of innovative solutions. One of the most promising of these has been the Dental Health Aide Therapy (DHAT) program, designed and implemented by the Tribes in Alaska. This mid-level dental provider program demonstrates how a Tribally- determined and driven solution can answer and overcome tremendous barriers, delivering safe, culturally competent, regular care.

This model holds tremendous promise for Tribes outside of Alaska as well. Today, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community announced that it will be sending a community member for training to become a DHAT. Ms. Bohlen stated, “The National Indian Health Board stands with the Tribe as it exercises its sovereign right to protect its Tribal citizens and deliver needed services.” 

For more information:NW Tribe Bringing Oral Health Care into 21st Century
or to download: Swinomish Indian Community-DHAT Release

Our View: Improve access to dental care


Legislative success often occurs only after many years of struggle to get laws passed. Take, for instance, the effort by Health Action New Mexico and others to recognize a new class of oral health-care provider — the dental therapist.

Once again, legislation has been introduced to do for dental care essentially what physicians’ assistants did for medical care. That is, create a mid-level provider who can take care of basic care, diagnose problems and leave doctors and dentists to handle more severe issues.

At the heart of the need for such caregivers is the reality that New Mexico has a shortage of dentists, with 32 of 33 counties lacking enough. That leaves 1.3 million New Mexicans without access to adequate dental care. Senate Bill 6 and House Bill 349 would allow for dental therapists to be licensed in New Mexico. (The legislation is opposed by the New Mexico Dental Association but was approved Monday in the House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee on a 5-1 vote. Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, is the sponsor in the House, with Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo, leading the charge in the Senate.)

To access article: Improve access to care

Dental Therapists Can Close the Oral Health Gap for Native Youth
From The Aspen Journal of Ideas 

By: Ryan Ward and Joaquin Ray Gallegos
To access article: Dental Therapists Can Close Oral Health Gap Native Youth

Kellogg Foundation Updates-Momentum around Dental Therapists Continues to Build

Washington Post advocates for dental therapists:

In an editorial published this week, theWashington Post urged states to license dental therapists as a way to provide more Americans with needed dental care. As part of the solution to the country’s oral health crisis, dental therapists would work as member of the existing dental team expanding access to dental care for rural, remote, tribal and low-income communities facing dentist shortages.

Tribes lead the nation with 10 years of dental therapists:

On June 6th, 2014, five new dental health aide therapists (DHAT) graduated marking the tenth anniversary of dental therapists practicing in the United States. Since beginning to practice in Alaska, DHATs have expanded care to more than 40,000 people, forever altering Alaska Native people’s oral health future and bringing the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium closer to its goal of having Alaska Native people be the world’s healthiest.

See the recap of the event, media coverage, and photos, including a congratulations video (see youtube) from partners and supporters around the country. Alaska’s program is leading the national movement to expand the dental care workforce using midlevel dental providers like dental therapists. Ninety Tribal governments have officially indicated support of the dental therapist effort. Minnesota, and most recently Maine authorized midlevels to practice, and more than a dozen other states are pursuing similar dental workforce models.

NPR’s Diane Rehm Show features oral health in America:

On June 16th, Former Secretary of Health and Human Services and CEO of The Sullivan Alliance, Dr. Louis Sullivan, was a guest on The Diane Rehm Show where he described how the tribes of Alaska are leading the charge for expanding the dental workforce to include midlevel providers. Dr. Sullivan pointed to the success of the Alaska DHAT program, highlighted the nation’s dentist shortage and advocated for allowing midlevel providers to practice in order to assure people can get the dental care they need. Colin Reusch, senior policy analyst at the Children’s Dental Health Project, and Dr. Harry Goodman, director of Office of Oral Health Prevention and Health Promotion Administration at Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, were also guests on the show.

Pew report finds dental therapists expand access to care:

The Pew Charitable Trusts recently released new case studies that show that dental therapists working in nonprofit public settings can expand access to care in underserved communities while more than paying for themselves with the revenue they generate. The report examines three approaches to expanding dental care and highlights dental therapists working across the country in diverse settings.”Expanding the Dental Health Team” A report from the PEW Charitable Trusts

Native Health News Alliance: Alaska dental health aide therapists mark 10 years in practice–Provided expanded access to 40,000 Alaska Native people!!

We Love our DHATFrom the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium

Other states considering the Alaska midlevel dental model 

2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the first group of Alaska students returning from education in New Zealand to become Alaska’s, and the nation’s, first Dental Health Aide Therapists (DHATs). Those DHATs, along with the faculty, dentists, Tribal leaders and rural communities who support this program, were pioneers, the first to bring midlevel dental providers to the United States. Over the past 10 years, they have expanded much-needed access to dental care and prevention services for more than 40,000 Alaska Native people living in 81 rural, mostly remote communities across the state. To read more… Alaska DHAT Marks 10 Years