Dental Therapists to See Greater Use in Native American Programs

Dentistry Today


The Indian Health Service (IHS) has outlined the process that it will use to finalize a policy and implementation plan to expand the use of community health aides including dental health aide therapists in American Indian and Alaska Native health programs across the country. Under the new policy, facilities operated by the federal government and tribally operated facilities could see expanded opportunities for using these aides.

“Increased access to healthcare is a top priority for IHS, and community health aides expand much needed health services for American Indian and Alaska Native communities,” said Mary L. Smith, IHS principal deputy director. “Community health aides are already providing quality healthcare in some parts of Indian Country, and with the expansion of this program, Native American communities across the nation will have access to these valuable health workers.”

In June of 2016, the IHS invited comments from tribal leaders on a draft policy statement to begin a process of expanding the use of community health aides at IHS facilities across the country. The IHS now will establish a national workgroup that includes tribal leaders and outside experts to advise the agency on the development of a new policy and implementation plan for the Community Health Aide Program.

Then, the IHS will seek input through the formal tribal consultation process and finalize the policy. The agency already runs an evaluation system mandated by statute to monitor current IHS community health aides to assure that quality healthcare is being provided to patients. The Report on the Tribal Consultation for the IHS Policy Statement on Creating a National IHS Community Health Aide Program and Dear Tribal Leader Letter announcing the report are available on the IHS website. 

Last August, through the Community Health Aide Program Certification Board it manages, the IHS certified the latest group of community health aides in Alaska, totaling 171 behavioral health, dental health, and other aides and practitioners. Many community health aides come from their local communities and immediate areas.

For example, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium operates the community-driven Dental Health Aide Program, which provides culturally appropriate dental education and routine dental services in 81 Alaska Native communities serving more than 40,000 Alaska Native people since 2004. Overall, the IHS provides a comprehensive health service delivery system for approximately 2.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives.

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