The Tribes of Alaska first considered how to bring dental therapists to their rural villages, to provide regular dental care where communities had otherwise, gone without, and to reduce the high rates of dental disease among Alaska Natives. In Alaska, dental therapists have been practicing since 2005, and are now providing quality, routine dental care to more than 40,000 children and families.
Originally trained in New Zealand through a program started in the 1920s, dental therapists are part of the well-established Community Health Aide Program in Alaska. Since 2006, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Rasmuson Foundation and Bethel Community Services Foundation, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium works with the University of Washington to educate dental therapists from Alaska, closer to home. This Alaska-based program builds upon a long-term relationship with the University of Washington. Students in this two-year program now receive their education and field work in Anchorage and Bethel, Alaska.
In 2009, Minnesota became the first state with an authorizing environment to create dental therapist educational programs to help address oral care issues. Programs are operated at the University of Minnesota’s School of Dentistry and Metropolitan State University. In less than two years since the first graduates began practicing, dental therapists in Minnesota are increasing access to dental services for children and adults on Medicaid.
Dental therapy is well-established in more than 50 countries around the world, including countries with advanced dental care systems similar to the U.S. Both internationally and in the U.S., dental therapists have a history of successfully expanding proven high-quality care to underserved children and families as part of a comprehensive system of care managed by dentists.