Maintaining good oral health is an essential of part of living a full, healthy life. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has a long history of working to improve oral health and expand dental care for the underserved. Over the years, the Kellogg Foundation’s programming has evolved, striving to remain innovative and responsive to the every-changing needs of communities. Programming has taken a multi-pronged approach including:
Today, we are committed to addressing disparities in dental health so all children and families –especially our most vulnerable, including those from racial and ethnic communities –have the same opportunity to be healthy. Underpinning this commitment is our approach to racial equity and addressing the barriers children and families face that impact their overall health, and their ability to succeed in school and reach their full potential.
A decade ago, the U.S. Surgeon General’s 2000 report Oral Health in America established the critical need to improve oral health care. Nearly ten years later, too many children still face significant barriers to getting quality oral health care. Today’s U.S. dental workforce is not meeting the needs of the population, particularly Americans in poor and isolated communities, including in tribal areas. At risk is the oral health of children and families in underserved communities where there are not enough dentists and dental care is unaffordable for many.
Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease, even though it is largely preventable. According to Health Resources Services Administration, nearly 50 million people live in areas without enough dentists. To overcome these shortages, the U.S. government estimates we need more than 9,000 new dental providers.
At the Kellogg Foundation, we are working with partners across the country to build awareness of oral health access issues and to end dental care shortages that disproportionately afflict low-income communities and communities of color by bringing quality dental care to every community. Read the official news release
Across the country, communities, child health advocates, policymakers and some oral health professionals are engaging in conversations to explore how alternative providers, such as dental therapists, can work collaboratively with dentists as part of the dental team to extend care to underserved areas.WHAT IS A DENTAL THERAPIST?
One community-led model has been addressing the oral health needs in Alaska. In Alaska Native villages, Dental Health Aide Therapists as innovative, alternative dental providers are offering prevention, education and a limited scope of dental services for those who need it.
Originally trained in New Zealand through a program started in the 1920s, dental health aide therapists are part of the well-established Community Health Aide Program in Alaska. Since 2006, with support from the Kellogg Foundation, Rasmuson Foundation, and Bethel Community Services Foundation, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium is working with the University of Washington to train dental health aide therapists from Alaska, closer to home. This Alaska-based training program builds upon a long-term relationship with the University of Washington. Students in this two-year program now receive their training and field work in Alaska.
Internationally and in Alaska, 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. 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.
Alaska Natives are not alone in terms of experiencing barriers to quality dental health services. Today, there is growing momentum at state, tribal and Federal levels to explore new solutions:
As part of health reform, Congress created an alternative dental provider demonstration designed to foster at least 15 demonstration projects in the next five years. These projects will help identify innovative ways in states and tribal communities to expand access to those most in need.
Americans need affordable dental care where they live. For many, due to scarcity of dentists in some rural and underserved areas, dentists alone can’t meet that need. It is time to expand the dental care workforce and explore alternative models for providing oral health care, especially for the most vulnerable children and families.
Through our Dental Therapist Project, we are working with Community Catalyst, the National Congress of American Indians, the University of Colorado Denver, child health advocates, state and tribal leaders in five states (Kansas, New Mexico, Ohio, Washington and Vermont) to explore the feasibility of establishing dental therapist programs – similar to the program in Alaska - as a way to provide oral health care to those in need.
Alaska’s Dental Therapists are Bringing Back Smiles [Video]
As part of a community-led solution from the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, dental therapists are filling the unmet oral health needs in Alaska. Meet Conan Murat, one of the first dental therapists in Alaska.
My Daughter’s DHAT story [Video]
Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium’s Valerie Davidson recounts the positive impact of dental therapists on the oral health habits of her 6-year-old daughter.
Excellent Training, Effective Supervision [Video]
This video provides an overview of the education and training dental therapists receive.
Dental Therapists Filling Unmet Oral Health Needs (Podcast) [Audio]
As part of a community-led solution from the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, dental therapists like Conan Murat are filling the unmet oral health needs in Alaska.
Native America Calling – Dental Care for the Masses (April 17, 2012) [Audio]
Live call-in program Native America Calling discusses oral health issues around the country and how dental therapists are helping expand access to dental care. Courtesy of Koahnic Broadcast Corporation.
Economic Viability of Dental Therapists
Published in May 2013
Prepared by Frances M. Kim, DDS, DrPH for Community Catalyst
A review of the global literature on dental therapists
Published in April 2012
By David A. Nash, D.M.D., M.S., Ed.D., Jay W. Friedman, D.D.S., M.P.H. and Kavita R. Mathu-Muju, D.M.D., M.P.H.
Improving Access to Oral Health Care for Vulnerable and Undeserved Populations
Published in July 2011
By Institute of Medicine of the National Academies
Workforce Development in Dentistry: Addressing Access to Care
Published in June 2011
By Journal of Public Health Dentistry
The State of Children's Dental Health: Making Coverage Matter
Published in May 2011
By Pew Center on the States, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and DentaQuest Foundation
Evaluation of the Dental Health Aide Therapist Workforce Model in Alaska
Published in October 2010
By RTI International
Training New Dental Health Providers in the U.S.
Published in December 2009, Updated in June 2010
By Burt L. Edelstein, DDS, MPH
It Takes a Team: How New Dental Providers Can Benefit Patients and Practices
Pew Center on the States
Oral Health: Efforts Under Way to Improve Children's Access to Dental Services, but Sustained Attention Needed to Address Ongoing Concerns
U.S. Government Accountability Office
Help Wanted: A Policy Maker’s Guide to New Dental Providers
Pew Center on the States
Oral Health Checkup: Progress in Tough Fiscal Times?
National Health Policy Forum
Improving Oral Healthcare Delivery Systems Through Workforce Innovations
Journal of Public Health Dentistry
The Cost of Delay: State Dental Policies Fail One in Five Children
Pew Center on the States, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and DentaQuest Foundation
Key Findings Report on New Mexico's Oral Health Gap
Con Alma Health Foundation