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Navajo Nation Children – At Risk for Poor Oral Health

Jul 11, 2014

By Felicia Papier

A study recently published in the Journal of Public Health Dentistry discovered that almost 70% of children living in the Navajo Nation have untreated tooth decay.  This is a slight improvement from a 1999 study which was almost 83%; however, many still find the high percentage rate unacceptable.

For years studies have been done on how different ethnic groups fair on the dental health scale.  Unfortunately poor oral health is seen more often in lower socio-economic stations, remote geographic areas and sometimes it’s just genetic.  The children of many Native American communities suffer from all three.

"The oral health among Native Americans is abysmal with more than three times the disease of the rest of the country," said Terrence Batliner, DDS, MBA, associate director of the Center for Native Oral Health Research at the School of Public Health. "The number one problem is access to care."

While the percentage of untreated tooth decay amongst the Navajo has decreased over the last decade, it has not decreased enough to match the national average.  The 70% of untreated decay compares with 21% among all other races and ethnic groups.

Currently the Navajo Nation stretches over 25,000 square miles and is the largest reservation in the US. There are 22 dental clinics available to serve 230,000 residents, but much of the reservation is so remote that getting transportation to the clinics is difficult.

Dr. Batliner is an advocate of having dental therapists on the reservations.  These dental therapists would be able to provide preventive care along with fillings and extractions when necessary.  There are Alaskan tribes that are seeing success from these programs and they tout that the quality of care is good. 

The American Dental Association is hard pressed to endorse this idea and has actually filed a lawsuit to prohibit the use of dental therapists on native lands.  It remains unclear to why the ADA is not on board with this program when it could clearly decrease the rate of risk for children and adults alike. 

Source: medical news today

Copyright 2014, Bloom Insurance Agency, LLC

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