In the November 2013 issue of Health Affairs Journal, Conan Murat describes how he and a handful of pioneers are dramatically improving access to regular dental for Alaska Native children and families. In the past nine years, Murat, one of the few dental therapists in the U.S., and his peers have expanded access to dental care for more than 40,000 Alaska Natives.
In his compelling story, Murat declares his commitment to serving his community and demonstrates how speaking the language and the cultural competence he and other dental therapists bring to their role, have led to successful outcomes. He describes traveling across the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta to provide care and teach children and families about good oral health. The region he serves is roughly the size of Oregon and home to about 25,000 people living in 56 scattered villages—many only accessible by air or sea.
Alaska is not the only place where basic dental care is out of reach: virtually every state in the country has a dental health professional shortage area. That means about 47 million people can’t get dental care in their own communities. Dental therapists are currently practicing in Alaska and Minnesota, while more than 20 states and tribes across the country are actively exploring how mid-level dental providers like dental therapists, can improve access to dental care for those who go without.