Nonprofit Touts Alaska Dental Therapists As Oral Health Pioneers

Bobby Curtis is a Dental Health Aide Therapist in Shishmaref. (Photo by  Matthew F. Smith, KNOM - Nome)
Bobby Curtis is a Dental Health Aide Therapist in Shishmaref. (Photo by Matthew F. Smith, KNOM – Nome)

Dental health aide therapists have been providing mid-level dental care in the Norton Sound region for about a decade. Now a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts highlights Norton Sound Health Corporation’s dental therapist program as one of the leading efforts in the nation for increasing access to dental care.

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Bobby Curtis has been a dental therapist for more than 15 years—and for the past five years has worked to emphasize preventative dental care to kids in Shishmaref.

“In Shishmaref, what we do is during the school year we do a school program,” Curtis said. “We get the kids in, we do the exams and cleanings, and we do a weekly fluoride rinse program out there. So that they’re not just seeing us in the clinic, they’re seeing us outside the clinic also, at the school.”

The Pew report notes that dental therapists have been operating in dozens of other countries before coming to the U.S., but their success in Alaska has led to them being trained and certified in Minnesota and, recently, dental therapists have been approved in Maine. As many as 15 other states are looking to license their own dental therapists.