August 30, 2012
The ongoing presence of Dental Health Aide Therapists (DHAT) in rural Alaska villages is a constant reminder to the Alaska Native population of the need for good oral health. The common culture shared with the DHATs who live in the communities they serve helps build the trust necessary that will enable a healthier future for the 85,000 Alaska Natives living in the 200 rural villages throughout the state.
Tooth decay has reached epidemic proportions among Alaska Natives. Decay rates among the children are now more than two times the national average. Among adolescents and adults it is common to find villagers with no teeth at all. Until now, dental care for most villagers has involved expensive air travel to a regional dental clinic, mostly for emergency care. Now, villages in increasing numbers have their own resident dental professional, making access to dentistry easier and allowing patient and community based decay prevention programs to be put in place.