Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board: Indian Leadership for Indian Health

Oral Health Project

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Dental Health Aide Therapist Bonnie Johnson provides services in her community of Emmonak, Alaska

Mission:  Our mission is to connect tribal communities with innovative approaches to address AI/AN oral health disparities, to remove barriers currently impeding tribal communities from creating efficient, high quality, modern dental teams and to provide opportunities for AI/AN people to become oral health providers. 

Oral Health Project:

The Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board (NPAIHB) supports the forty-three federally recognized Tribes in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington in their delivery of oral health care services. We believe there is a tremendous opportunity to increase access to oral health care and address the unacceptable oral health disparities that exist in Tribal communities.

It is well documented that American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) carry a disproportionate burden of oral disease. According to the IHS 2014 Oral Health Survey, the majority of AI/AN children have tooth decay, most adults have lost teeth because of dental disease, periodontal disease is a significant problem for adults, and there is limited access to both preventive and restorative dental care. Profound health disparities exist between the oral health status of AI/ANs in the Pacific Northwest compared to non-AI/ANs in the same area. 

Oral health is essential to overall health, and we cannot have healthy communities without access to reliable, high quality, affordable dental care. The Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board will be working with tribes to develop dental programs which meet the following goals:

  • Expand access to consistent, routine, high quality oral health care in tribal communities;
  • Grow the number of AI/AN oral health care providers available to tribal communities;
  • Bring culturally competent care into tribal communities;
  • Create a more efficient and effective oral health team that can meet the needs of the tribal communities;
  • Establish cost effective solutions to oral health challenges into tribal communities;
  • Bring care where it is needed most.

More than 40,000 Alaska Natives across 81 communities have gained access to dental care through the Dental Health Aide Therapist (DHAT) model in Alaska, and Alaska Native children are now being seen with no cavities. The DHAT model also builds community capacity and creates jobs by training community members to become DHATs. The DHAT model works for Alaska Natives and will work for American Indians in Idaho, Oregon and Washington.