Dental Health Aide Therapists (DHATs) provide professional and culturally competent dental care and prevention services, fighting the decades-long epidemic of oral suffering and disease around rural Alaska and improving access to dental care for Alaska Native people. A DHAT is a dental team member who works under the supervision of a licensed dentist providing a limited range of services. Those services include patient and community-based preventive dental services, basic restorations and uncomplicated extractions.
The Alaska Dental Therapy Educational Program (ADTEP) is two years in length, followed by at least three months of preceptorship with a supervising dentist. Successful completion of these requirements is needed prior to certification by the Alaska Community Health Aide Program Certification Board. A DHAT’s education provides them with the skills to meet the majority of basic dental care needs in rural Alaska Native communities.
Dental Health Aide Therapists have changed the course of oral health for Alaska Native people. More than 40,000 rural Alaskans now have regular access to dental care from a DHAT. Many rural Alaskans have never had this kind of access or continuity of care before.
In 2004, a group of Alaska Native students returned from training in New Zealand and became Alaska’s first Dental Health Aide Therapists. In response to a need for regular oral health care in the Alaska Tribal Health System, DHATs were pioneers in providing access to mid-level dental care and prevention services for Alaska Native people living in rural communities across the state.
In addition to expanding care in Alaska, the ADTEP also supports expanding dental care in Tribal communities across the United States. Since 2015, 13 students representing Tribes from the Pacific Northwest have enrolled in the program. In 2016, the first Alaska educated DHAT was hired by the Swinomish Tribe in Washington to assist their dental team in meeting the overwhelming oral health care needs of their tribal members.
Alaska’s DHATs and ANTHC’s Educational Program are recognized as the model of success for improving oral health and access to care for rural populations around the world.
ANTHC partners with the Iḷisaġvik Tribal College and offers an Associate’s Degree in Dental Therapy. Washington, Oregon, Arizona and New Mexico passed legislation and approved DHAT Programs in their states. ANTHC also provides DHAT Educational opportunities for First Nations students from Canada under the Jay Treaty.