In 1999, An Oral Health Survey of American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) Dental Patients found that 79% of 2- to 5-year-olds had a history of tooth decay. The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in collaboration with Alaska’s Tribal Health Organizations (THO) developed a new and diverse dental workforce model to address AI/AN oral health disparities.
This paper describes the workforce model and some experience to date of the Dental Health Aide (DHA) Initiative that was introduced under the federally sanctioned Community Health Aide Program in Alaska. These new dental team members work with THO dentists and hygienists to provide education, prevention and basic restorative services in a culturally appropriate manner.
The DHA Initiative introduced 4 new dental provider types to Alaska: the Primary Dental Health Aide, the Expanded Function Dental Health Aide, the Dental Health Aide Hygienist and the Dental Health Aide Therapist. The scope of practice between the 4 different DHA providers varies vastly along with the required training and education requirements. DHAs are certified, not licensed, providers. Recertification occurs every 2 years and requires the completion of 24 hours of continuing education and continual competency evaluation.
Dental Health Aides provide evidence-based prevention programs and dental care that improve access to oral health care and help address well-documented oral health disparities.