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In South Dakota, Rosebud Indian Reservation seeks volunteers for its dental clinic

June 04, 2018

By Michelle Manchir

Marty Jones, Dr. Thane Crump, Ms. Jones with volunteers at St Francis Mission dental clinic Rosebud Indian Reservation South Dakota
All in: Marty Jones, far right, a dental hygienist, and Dr. Thane Crump, next to Ms. Jones, were among the organizers of a week of donated dental care at St. Francis Mission dental clinic on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota in April. Ms. Jones invites dentists and dental teams from the across the U.S. to visit the reservation and donate dental care.
St. Francis, S.D. — North of the Nebraska Sandhills sits the Rosebud Indian Reservation, home to more than 20,000 members of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, a branch of the Lakota people.

Located on the Great Plains, the sprawling reservation is fairly isolated — the nearest grocery store is at least 35 miles away, said Marty Jones, a registered dental hygienist and the director of the St. Francis Mission Dental Clinic on the reservation.

The clinic, which opened in 2013 thanks to support from the South Dakota Dental Association, Delta Dental and the Delta Dental Foundation, serves as the principal place for receiving dental care for many of the reservation’s residents. It relies exclusively on volunteer dentists and hygienists for providing care, Ms. Jones said.

Volunteers come from as far away as Kentucky and Rhode Island, and Ms. Jones wants to get the word out that dentists and dental teams from around the country are invited to volunteer at Rosebud.

Getting to the rural clinic can be cumbersome, but for those who can make the journey, there is a guesthouse that can sleep up to 18 and provide meals, Ms. Jones said.

Dr. Thane Crump, a dentist in Watertown, South Dakota, about 300 miles northeast of the reservation, said he and his dental team have been volunteering at Rosebud during special clinic days for about four years.

“I love going,” he said. “Our interaction with the people is the biggest reason we keep going back. There’s a lot of need, and the people are great to work with and work for.”

Most recently, Dr. Crump visited the reservation in April for a mission to provide children with care. That week, about 208 children were treated by six volunteer dentists. The young patients received oral health education, cleanings and restorations, including pulpotomies and stainless steel crowns.

To be sure, the need for dental care on the reservation is great.

Ryker in dentist chair at the Rosebud Indian Reservation
First dental visit: Ryker, age 4, visited with a dentist for the first time in his life during the mission event in April at the Rosebud Indian Reservation.

According to the Indian Health Service Division of Oral Health, American Indian and Alaska Native children display dental disease disproportionately across all age groups. During a 2017 stakeholder meeting, the IHS said that American Indian and American Native children ages 2-5 experience caries at four times the rate of U.S. white children and more than double of the next highest ethnic group, U.S. Hispanics. For American Indian and Alaska Native children ages 6-9 and 13-15, eight out of 10 have a history of caries.

Still, said Ms. Jones, the highest need for care on the reservation is among uninsured adults.

The reservation could especially benefit from volunteers who are endodontists or have expertise in making partial and complete dentures.

Dental students are also welcome volunteers when supervised by faculty. Students from Nebraska’s Creighton University School of Dentistry, the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Dentistry and Indiana University have been volunteers, said Ms. Jones.

Ms. Jones, who grew up on the reservation, said she welcomes new faces there.

Out-of-state volunteers will need to apply for a temporary license to work in South Dakota. Ms. Jones asks those interested to contact her at marty.jones@sfmission.net and visit the South Dakota State Board of Dentistry website to download the temporary volunteer application.

For more information about volunteering, visit the St. Francis Mission’s website, SFMission.org. Ms. Jones also welcomes questions about volunteering by email at marty.jones@sfmission.net.

Dr. Crump said he looks forward to returning each spring, especially to assist with the children’s mission week, which he expects will be an annual event.

He encourages others to consider visiting the reservation. “Come out,” he said. “The people are very appreciative and they make you feel welcome.”.