Access to dental care on tribal reservations could improve under a proposed bill to authorize dental health aide therapist to practice in the state.
Dental health aide therapists (DHATs) perform preventive care, cleanings and simple restorations such as fillings without the direct supervision of a dentist. Currently, some tribal clinics have dental health aide therapists. However if the state authorizes them it would make it easier for clinics to get federal funds.
“This legislation has been around for a while. Hopefully we are a place to move this forward,” the bill’s sponsor Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, said. “I think all the concerns of health and safety have been addressed.”
The program has been in place in Alaska since 2001. Dr. Rachel Hogan, dentist for the Swinomish Tribe, said she was first skeptical about the program until she saw it implemented in Alaska.
“From that I have no more concerns or reservations about the program,” she said.
Hogan works with dental health aide therapist Daniel Kennedy to help create treatment plans for patients. Because Kennedy is able to do filings and preventable care, Hogan said she has more time to do crowns and other more complex procedures.
Kennedy is also part of the community as a whole and has a rapport with his patients, Hogan said. This helps children trust me because they know him.
“When I was up there I was so impressed,” Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, said about her clinic visit.
In many areas like the Colville Indian Reservation, about an hour north of Spokane, it is difficult to have dentists, Colville Vice Chairman Mel Tonasket said. Dentists rotate through the area but are not there full time.
“It is like a frontier up there,” he said. “You never get preventable care. You only get emergency care.”