Four new dental health aide therapists (DHATs) graduated from the intensive two-year DENTEX training program Friday, December 9. Graduates Jana Schuerch of Kiana, AK; Shannon Hardy of Fort Yukon; Trisha Patton of Napakiak; and Kate Kohl of Bethel will deliver routine dental care in Alaska Native communities after completing the next step of their training, a 400-hour preceptorship under the direct supervision of a dentist.
Speaking to an audience of family and friends gathered at the Anchorage headquarters of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC), the DHATs described their personal journeys and sacrifices to arrive at graduation day. Keynote speaker Robert Allen, D.D.S., a clinical instructor at the program’s Yuut Elitnaurviat Dental Training Clinic, compared the pit stops and challenges of becoming a DHAT to the Indy 500 and presented checkered flags and toy race cars to the new DHATs.
Dental disease is a serious public health problem among Alaska Native children, whose rates of tooth decay are 2.5 times the national average. Alaska’s first DHATs received their training in New Zealand and started working in Alaska Native villages in 2005. In 2007 ANTHC, in partnership with the University of Washington’s MEDEX Northwest Physician Assistant Training Program, opened DENTEX, the first dental therapist training center in the United States. DHATs now provide access to regular dental care for 35,000 people who in the past had to rely on yearly visits by itinerant dentists.