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A Tribal Leader Speaks Out about Dental

Swinomish Tribal Indian Community Chairman Brian Cladoosby, formerly chair of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, champions dental therapy in his state. He urges other tribal leaders to do the same.

This article was produced and provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Swinomish Tribal Indian Community Chairman Brian Cladoosby, formerly chair of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, champions dental therapy in his state. He urges other tribal leaders to do the same.

Why have you taken a leadership role in educating others about dental therapists?

Health care, especially dental care, in Indian Country is abysmal. The hard cold fact is that dental therapists are needed here in Washington state and elsewhere. All you have to do is just look around the country, around the world, to where this program has been implemented, and you see results immediately. We have this saying in Indian Country that it takes two generations to break the cycle. And so when our community in the last two, three, four, generations has not had adequate dental care, and when parents do not have the best dental care, and their children don’t have the best dental care, we need to start breaking that cycle.

The Swinomish have a great dental facility. Why are you, of all tribes, so involved?

Our population is still underserved. We do not have enough chairs and dentists to service the people who come into our clinic. We reviewed our charts and found that about half of our work could easily be done by dental therapists, and it would take a huge burden off the dentists.

How would a dental therapist program help the young people of your community? 

We have a very unskilled workforce right now just because our grandparents were placed in the boarding schools. And with that boarding school mentality, education was not top priority. So if we can get some of these kids trained in this dental therapist program and put them to work, it will be a benefit for them and also for the future generations to see what is possible.

What’s next?

What I love about this dental therapy program is that it is a win-win situation. We need to sit down, craft a plan, and get these dental therapists in places in Indian Country and other rural communities and public health settings where they can have a positive impact. And I will bet you my bottom dollar that when we analyze this in five or 10 years down the road there will be nothing but positive reviews and positive results. 

Resolutions of Support The following organizations and tribes support dental therapy:

National Congress of American Indians
National Indian Health Board
Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians
Albuquerque Area Indian Health Board
Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board
Oglala Sioux Tribe