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Four new dental therapists graduate in Alaska

Dental therapists graduate - W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Four new dental health aide therapists, also called dental therapists, moved one step closer to their final certification as they graduated from the DENTEX training program on Thursday, June 6. To earn their certificates, graduates participated in an intensive two-year program of study spending one year in Anchorage, Alaska followed by a second year in Bethel. The graduates are: 

  • Melanie B. Kerschner from Bernsville, Pa. (sponsored by: Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation)
  • Cora M. Roberts from Hoonah (Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation) 
  • Elsie J. Pelowook from Savoonga (Norton Sound Health Corporation)
  • Savannah Bonorden from Sitka (SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium)

Following the graduation ceremony, they will begin working directly with a supervising dentist until that dentist certifies they are performing the skills in their scope of practice at an expert level—a minimum of 400 hours. Once certified, dental therapists are fully prepared to go back to their communities and provide high quality oral health care.  Every graduation is an exciting and proud moment for graduates, their families, and their home communities, which support their education.

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 dental therapists received their training in New Zealand and started working in Alaska Native villages in 2005. In 2007, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, in partnership with the University of Washington’s MEDEX Northwest Physician Assistant Training Program, opened DENTEX, the first dental therapist center in the United States. Since beginning to practice in Alaska, dental therapists have expanded access to oral health care to more than 40,000 Alaska Natives, an invaluable service. 

Alaska’s program has served as a model for the rest of the country. Minnesota recently enacted a dental therapist model and at least eight states have put forward legislation to enable them to practice in Alaska.

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