Yesterday, after a two-year wait, RTI International of Research Triangle Park, NC, released the results of a comprehensive medical evaluation that found that dental therapists practicing in Alaska provide safe, competent and appropriate dental care. This probably comes as no surprise to the hundreds of rural patients who have received care from a DHAT.

The video below, produced for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, explains the DHAT program. (Link to video here.)

The evaluation, the first of its scale to assess dental therapists practicing in the United States, confirms what numerous studies of dental therapists practicing in other countries have already shown: that dental therapists provide safe care for under-served populations.

In Alaska, dental therapists have been providing preventive and basic dental care to children and families in remote Alaska Native villages since 2006.

It was back in 2000 that the Alaska tribal health system decided that it would pursue the dental therapy model as a way to improve oral health delivery in Alaska.

In a statement released today, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) says it was a response to extraordinary unmet need. “Alaskan children and families have some of the highest levels of oral disease in the country. Many rural residents receive no oral health care until they have a life threatening dental emergency. Some never receive care at all.”

In June 2002, Rasmuson Foundation made its first award to ANTHC to train and employ DHATs in rural Alaska. About six months later, the first cohort of Alaskans departed for Otago University in New Zealand where they would participate in a two-year, intensive training program that would prepare them to provide specific dental services in very rural conditions under the supervision of dentists.

Three annual Alaska cohorts in total would depart for the New Zealand training program until the Alaska-based training program was prepared to accept its first students.

On April 11, 2007, the DHAT training center opened in Anchorage as a partnership between ANTHC and the University of Washington Medical School (MEDEX). Like the New Zealand program, students enroll for an intensive two-year training program.

Two years later, the Yuut Elitnaurviat dental training clinic opens in Bethel where students now complete their second year of DHAT training.

Today, there are 14 dental therapists certified to practice in Alaska, and there are 13 students currently in the Alaska training program. The third group of Alaska-educated DHATs will graduate in December; and there will be seven: one will be based in the Fort Yukon area, three will be assigned to the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta, two will be based in communities in the Eastern Aleutians, and one will be working in the Bristol Bay region.

Also in their statement, ANTHC acknowledges the many partners who helped along the way. They are: W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Bethel Community Services Foundation, Yuut Elitnaurviat, University of Washington, University of Kentucky, M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, Paul G. Allen Foundation, Ford Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Denali Commission, Indian Health Service, Health Resources and Services Administration, Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation, Norton Sound Health Corporation, Mount Sanford Tribal Consortium, Tanana Chiefs Conference, Eastern Aleutian Tribes, Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, Maniilaq Association, Southcentral Foundation, Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation, Southeast Alaska Tribal Health Consortium, Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments, Alaska Native Health Board, Senator Stevens, Senator Murkowski, Senator Begich, Congressman Young, and the State of Alaska.

A hearty congratulations to all.