American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) experience significant health disparities relative to the general U.S.
Population: In particular, oral diseases affect the majority of the AI/AN population and their prevalence is significantly greater than observed in other demographic sectors of the U.S.
Population: The reasons for these disparities are multiple but lack of access to dental care is clearly a contributing factor. The dentist-to-population ratio in many AI/AN communities is less than half the U.S. average. A solution has been developed in Alaska by AI/AN leaders: dental therapists, i.e., local people trained for two years to provide basic dental services. This solution is being fought by organized dentistry that sees the approach as an economic threat, but AI/AN organizations are committed to implementing this Native solution to their access problem. The Alaska experience indicates that access to oral health services can be improved through the addition of dental therapists to the dental team.