Important elements of Rasmuson Foundation’s rural oral health care strategy include (1) building sustainable resources that can provide primary oral care on a local basis; and (2) exposing dentists to rural Alaska in the hopes that some may choose to relocate and practice there. To this end, the Foundation collaborated with John A. Hartford Foundation in New York to connect with New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry. The goal was to entice NYU to send a contingent of dentists to rural Alaska to provide much needed care within the villages.

In February 2008, Rasmuson Foundation provided funding for NYU to bring a group of veteran dentists who had gone back to school for a specialty license in pediatric dentistry to Kasigluk. This group provided care primarily to the village’s children. It also got to experience the challenges of traveling in rural Alaska.

We recently funded a second trip to two Interior villages that wrapped up last Saturday. Dentists from three different schools of dentistry participated: NYU; Louisiana State University School of Dentistry; and A.T. Still University Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health.

The following are excerpts from the NYU dental team leader’s communications with us:

June 3

“We are packing up to move from Ft. Yukon to Venetie. The trip has been wonderful. We saw about 180 children and adults. The dentist here, Dr. Adair, is motivated and a real champion. We trained him to apply fluoride varnish and left enough material to last a year.

This trip we are not fighting the cold but the mosquitoes are killing us. The community is very friendly and has welcomed the group. They took us on a boat ride last night and have been feeding us well.

The faculty and students are getting so much out of the experience and are so happy to be here. I hope one of the students decides to spend part of their career here.”

June 4

“We are treating the patients in Venetie in the gym. A dentist has not visited the village in more than three years.

The needs here are great and more complex than in Ft. Yukon. The village consists of 150 people of which 50 are school children. As of 2:30 on our first day we have treated 33 adults and 22 children – we may get to see the whole village. We are training the health aid to apply fluoride varnish.

These communities have Head Start programs and we are making arrangements with the educational coordinator of the tribes, who we treated, to see the three to five year olds in the future. Early intervention could be a key to successful oral health for these children. Many children with extensive needs end up in Anchorage either hospitalized or worse.

Many of the adults in both communities have gone to Fairbanks for emergency care, and shopping, but cannot have their work completed in a single trip. These people will need to make more of these trips to finish a single tooth which then needs to be extensively restored. I will bring an endodontist with me the next trip to begin, finish and restore these teeth. We do this in three other of our outreaches.

We are all getting used to sleeping on the floor.”

June 6

“Saturday morning and we are finishing packing to start our return trip to our various homes.

We treated 38 of the 50 children in Venetie. We trained the health aid, May, on fluoride application and after applying it on six children, she appears comfortable and able. We left her enough varnish for the next six months. Two planes with 15 patients came from Artic and Circle. We treated 50 adult patients with extensive needs.

The total visits here will be about 120. The total visits for the two sites will be 350+.

I think we have gone a long way to meeting our goals and will know more after after data analysis, billing, ensuring sustainability both in Ft. Yukon and Venetie, the interest of the other participating schools (they are excited and want to continue, and the possibility of one of the group returning to practice in the remote areas.

The chief Chris, and James, the second in charge in the village has just stopped by to thank me and tell me that the people of the village needed and appreciated our efforts. I was asked if we would be returning.

We all look forward to a hot shower and a bed.”

Now, Rasmuson Foundation is collaborating with the State of Alaska to evaluate and expand this program. If deemed sustainable, this project could be transitioned to Native health organizations.