Mark Trahant: Expanding oral health access in Indian Country

"A philosophical question: How much medical training is needed to treat patients? Some say it’s the full course as proscribed by existing medical, nursing or dental schools. But when the shortages of doctors, nurses and dentists are ginormous, does the need require a different answer?

Consider oral health. “Shortages of dental practitioners and affordable dental care are hurting the health of millions of Americans, many of whom live with pain, miss school or work, and, in extreme cases, face life-threatening medical emergencies that result from dental infections. The situation is particularly severe for poor children and families and in communities of color,” writes Burton L. Edelstein, DDS, MPH Columbia University and Children’s Dental Health Project in a Dec. 2009 report for the W.W. Kellogg Foundation.

And, like most health issues, the data shows that Indian Country is at the low end of the spectrum. One study described it this way: “The American Indian / Alaska Native “population has the highest tooth decay rate of any population cohort in the United States: 5 times the US average for children 2–4 years of age. Seventy-nine percent of AIAN children, aged 2–5 years, have tooth decay, with 60% of these children having severe early childhood caries (baby bottle tooth decay). Eighty-seven percent of these children, aged 6–14 years, have a history of decay—twice the rate of dental caries experienced by the general population.”"

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