Dental Health Aides and Therapists in Alaska

In this chapter of the Anthology, award-winning journalist Sara Solovitch chronicles the history of dental therapists and dental aides in Alaska.

How to deliver health care services to people living in remote areas has long been a challenge to health policy planners. One approach is to give a limited amount of training to members of the community, who then can provide basic services to their neighbors. This model is used widely in underdeveloped countries, most famously with China’s barefoot doctors, and more sparingly in the United States.

In 2004, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, through its Local Initiative Funding Partners program, awarded the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium a grant to train a new category of dental practitioners called dental health aides. Dental health aides would receive two weeks of training and be able to offer very basic services, such as patient education and fluoride rinses.

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