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Statement by American Dental Association President William R. Calnon, D.D.S., on Dental Disease Epidemic in Pine Ridge

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Telephone: 312-440-2806
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Washington, D.C., Nov. 2, 2011 — “Native Americans suffer from inadequate access to dental care and the resulting disease in dramatically greater proportion than the general population.  The ADA historically has been the most prominent advocate for increasing resources to help improve oral health in Indian communities, including adequate funding for the Indian Health Service to fulfill its mission.  We have launched the Native American Oral Health Project in cooperation with the state dental societies in Arizona, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota in order to ramp up efforts to empower the Tribes and their people to take better command of their own oral health. 

“The Kellogg Foundation’s report from Pine Ridge is disturbing, all the more so because it has uncovered nothing new.  On the positive side, any efforts to call attention to this deplorable situation can only help a cause that the ADA and a few allies have for too long supported alone. 

“As is the case with most underserved populations, the barriers preventing too many American Indians from achieving good oral health are numerous and complex.  There is no one-size-fits-all solution.  The Kellogg Foundation’s fixation with training non-dentists to perform surgery as the sole answer evinces a startling lack of depth.  Kellogg’s own findings indicate that in many cases, the degree of disease goes well beyond that with which non-dentists could safely cope.  Even their boosters admit that therapists cannot perform the kinds of complex extractions, root canals and other surgical procedures needed to cure the advanced disease that afflicts many in Indian Country.  Only trained dentists—doctors of oral health—have the training and experience needed to perform these procedures safely and successfully.

“American Indian communities will never drill, fill and extract their way out of what amounts to an epidemic of dental disease.  Yes, restorative care is needed, and we must continue to increase its availability—performed by fully trained dentists—in Indian Country.  But ultimately only oral health education and prevention will defeat that epidemic.  The day that every child enters a continuum of oral care—including oral health education for families, preventive treatments like sealants and fluoride varnish, access to optimally fluoridated drinking water and a dental home—will mark the birth of a generation that is virtually free of oral disease.  We all must work to make that day a reality for the tens of millions of Americans, including as many as a quarter of the nation’s children, who currently lack adequate access to oral health care, whether they live in Indian Country, remote rural communities, suburbs or inner cities.” 

About the American Dental Association

The not-for-profit ADA is the nation's largest dental association, representing 157,000 dentist members. The premier source of oral health information, the ADA has advocated for the public's health and promoted the art and science of dentistry since 1859. The ADA's state-of-the-art research facilities develop and test dental products and materials that have advanced the practice of dentistry and made the patient experience more positive. The ADA Seal of Acceptance long has been a valuable and respected guide to consumer dental care products. The monthly The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) is the ADA's flagship publication and the best-read scientific journal in dentistry. For more information about the ADA, visit www.ada.org. For more information on oral health, including prevention, care and treatment of dental disease, visit the ADA’s consumer website www.MouthHealthy.org.