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Study finds Dental Health Aide Therapists improve oral health outcomes in Alaska Native communities

August 18, 2017

Chew on this: A new study released by the University of Washington shows that children in our Alaska Native communities who are served frequently by Dental Health Aide Therapists (ADTEPs) had lower rates of tooth extractions and more preventative care than residents in communities not receiving ADTEP services.

ADTEPs provide culturally appropriate dental education and routine dental services in Alaska Native communities, usually their home village, within the scope of their training. Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium introduced the first successful dental therapist workforce in the United States in 2004.

The study, led by Donald Chi, DDS, PhD, presents an analysis of patients in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC), from 2006 to 2015. YKHC serves 25,000 Alaska Native people representing 58 federally-recognized Tribes.

Using patient records and Medicaid claims data, researchers counted the total number of dental therapist treatment days provided in each community. They then compared communities with no dental therapist treatment days to those with the highest number of treatment days and found the following: for children, high exposure to dental therapists was associated with fewer extractions, less use of general anesthesia and more preventive visits.

Adults in these communities with the highest ADTEP visit days had fewer extractions and more preventive care visits.

While U.S. studies to date of dental therapists have examined care quality and patient access, this is the first known study to look at long-term outcomes of communities served by dental therapists. The study was funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, Rasmuson Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Since 2004, ADTEPs have expanded access to dental care and prevention services for more than 40,000 Alaska Native people living in 81 rural Alaska communities. ANTHC has formed a partnership with the Ilisgavik Tribal College and are now offering an Associate’s Degree in Dental Therapy.

In the U.S., dental therapists were first employed in Alaska in 2005 to serve Alaska Native communities, have been authorized in Minnesota, Maine and Vermont, and are being used to care for American Indian Tribes in Washington and Oregon. In June, the ANTHC graduated its first student to begin practicing in the Lower 48.

After receiving certification, an ADTEP can provide culturally appropriate dental education and a limited scope of preventive and restorative services under the supervision of a dentist.

ADTEPs exhibit performance competency in: medical evaluation; dental evaluation; periodontic techniques; clinic management and supervision; restorative dentistry; oral surgery and local anesthesia; infection control; equipment maintenance and repair; and community and preventative dentistry.

For more information on ANTHC’s Alaska Dental Therapy Educational Programs, visit:

For the news release from Rasmuson Foundation, visit:

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