Health | National

Dental group appears to relent on therapists in Indian Country

Brian Cladoosby, the chairman of the Swinomish Tribe, with a young dental patient. Photo from Cladoosby for NCAI / Facebook

The American Dental Association appears to giving up the fight over the use of dental therapists in Indian Country.

The group still believes only dentists should perform surgical procedures. But it won't challenge a new dental health aide therapist program started by the Swinomish Tribe of Washington, The New York Times reports.

“We had to take matters into our own hands,” Chairman Brian Cladoosby told the paper of his tribe's program, which is the first of its kind in the lower 48. He said the ADA's stance should pave the way for similar efforts in Indian Country.

“There are 567 federally recognized tribes, and I’m encouraging all of them to follow our lead,” Cladoosby, who also serves as president of the National Congress of American Indians, told the paper.

Dental therapy programs are common in Alaska and have been used successfully since 2004. They have been slow to spread elsewhere due to a provision in the Indian Health Care Improvement Act that allows therapists but only if they are permitted in the state where a tribe is based.

Alaska, Oregon and Minnesota are the only states that have passed laws to allow therapists.

Get the Story:
Where Dentists Are Scarce, American Indians Forge a Path to Better Care (The New York Times 5/23)
Investigating Native American Dental Health (Spokane Public Radio 5/13)

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