Native Americans, Massachusetts and oral health

Issues surrounding dental health are finally getting the attention they deserve. Here, the RWJ foundation alerts us to Harvard’s role in a program “designed to  increase the enrollment and retention of underrepresented students in dental schools.” They take us to Martha’s Vineyard, where, they say, members of the islands’ small Wampanoag community have little access to dental care.

Aquinnah-Seal-1998Poor oral health care has been an issue in American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities for many years. The most recent study reported that the AI/AN population has the highest dental cary (decay in tooth or bone) rate in the country. The problem is attributed to a number of factors, including a lack of access to providers who understand and are committed to working in AI/AN communities.

From  Brian Swann, DDS, MPH, who directs the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded Dental Pipeline National Learning Institute (NLI) program at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine “The Wampanoag people have also had horrible experiences with oral health due to poor access to care and living with pain and tooth loss from untreated dental problems,”

In the areas where many of the Wampanoag live, there are six private dentists (none of them take insurance) and a hospital-based clinic that often needs to be booked six months in advance. In order to get dental care, they have to consider going off island and that can be costly or mean a missed day at work—critical issues for a population that also has limited financial resources.



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