Letters to the Editor

Backs dental therapists to improve health care

Native American youth – roughly 62,000 kids here in Washington – don’t have adequate access to oral health care. It is unacceptable that 72 percent of native youth like me have untreated tooth decay. We deserve access to quality, equitable oral health care.

This is especially true because native communities like mine were the origin of an innovative solution to lack of dental access – the dental therapist. Alaska native tribes brought to the U.S. a successful 100-year old model, used in 50 countries. In 10 years, they increased access to 45,000 people.

Leaders in Washington are trying to replicate that success, but the Washington Dental Association and American Dental Association oppose these efforts. I believe their opposition isn’t based on fact and it’s hurting our communities.

Research proves that dental therapists are safe and effective. They don’t replace dentists. Dental therapists add to a dentist-led team, increasing access. The fact is there aren’t enough dentists, and rural and tribal communities cannot compete in recruitment.

For the first time in 100 years, Alaska native communities have cavity-free children. I want that for my community. My people have that right. Native children here – like all Washington’s children – deserve oral health care and healthy smiles.

William Lucero