Michael Bird: Dental care comes up short for New Mexico tribes

The Albuquerque Indian Dental Clinic, an Indian Health Service facility in New Mexico. Photo from Desbah B. / Yelp

Michael Bird, a former president of the American Public Health Association, calls for a dental therapy program to serve tribal members in New Mexico:
There is an oral health care crisis in our New Mexico tribal communities that must be addressed. Many tribes are located in rural areas, and most are in dental provider shortage areas.

Even those living in urban areas have little to no access to dental care.

Dental decay and disease are highly prevalent in the American Indian population. In one New Mexico pueblo, 70 percent of adults suffer from untreated dental decay, and 58 percent of the children live with untreated dental decay.

These children are missing school and suffering needlessly. Adults miss work, and elders cannot eat nutritious foods.

This is needless suffering when a proven solution is readily available.

By utilizing the dental therapist model, all tribal, rural and underserved people throughout the state of New Mexico could benefit from much needed oral health care. The states of Alaska and Minnesota are already using this model, as well as countries around the world.

A dental therapist is a mid-level oral health provider, recruited and trained from the local community they will serve. For my community, dental therapists would mean employment and oral health care that is culturally and linguistically appropriate for our community members.

Get the Story:
Michael Bird: Tribal dental care access falls short (The Albuquerque Journal 3/9)

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