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ADA, dental coalition oppose expansion of DHAT program

Washington—The Association urged Senate support for legislation limiting dental health aide therapists to Alaska and sought ADA member "help to ensure that the DHAT position is not authorized to provide services in the lower 48 states."

In related communications with the U.S. Senate and grassroots dentists, the Association outlined policy to be amplified in Senate testimony Dec. 3. ADA President Ron Tankersley was scheduled to testify at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee oversight hearing on "expanding dental health care in Indian country."

"We are opposed to Congress expanding the Alaska therapist model," said a dental coalition letter to the committee signed by the American Academy of Oral & Maxillofacial Pathology, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, American Academy of Periodontology, American Association of Orthodontists, American College of Prosthodontists and the American Dental Association. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) chairs the committee.

"We need your help to ensure that the DHAT position is not authorized to provide services in the lower 48 states," said an ADA member "action alert" signed by Dr. Tankersley. "Please take action now and write your Senator(s) on the Indian Affairs Committee." The alert quickly generated more than 300 grassroots dentist letters to Senate offices as measured by Capwiz.com.

"While a shortage of dentists exists in the Indian Health Service (IHS), we believe that the problem is being addressed," Dr. Tankersley said. "This year alone there will be 70 additional dentists providing care in tribal areas. With one more year of similar recruiting success, the shortage of dentists in the IHS could be eliminated. No other action could have a more significant impact upon increasing access to surgical oral healthcare in tribal areas with profound need.

"Many other successful programs are in place as well," Dr. Tankersley added. "The ADA has been working with the IHS to create and fund a dental summer extern program and lobbying to increase student loan repayments for dentists hired by the (Indian Health) Service or tribes. This program will lead to more young dentists choosing to work in tribal areas, reducing even further the need to look for other models to provide surgical dental care."

An amendment to the Indian Health Care Improvement Act was expected to be offered at a Senate legislative markup to allow dental health aide therapists, currently authorized to practice only in Alaska, to provide dental services in Indian country throughout the lower 48 states.

The Association opposes expansion of the Alaska therapist model.