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Native American Oral Health Program Provides Care to Thousands



For Immediate Release


Delta Dental of South Dakota

720 N. Euclid Ave.

Pierre, SD 57501

Phone: 605-224-7345



Connie Halverson



Native American Oral Health Program Provides Care to Thousands

PIERRE, SD (February 3, 2014) – In January of 2013, with the help of a Health Care Innovation Award from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, Delta Dental of South Dakota sent teams of dental hygienists and tribally employed oral health coordinators to communities like Porcupine, Cheyenne Eagle Butte and Ft. Thompson to help improve the oral health status of Native Americans living on South Dakota’s nine reservations. One year later, those teams have provided preventive dental services and oral health education to nearly 4,000 patients and helped hundreds of families navigate the dental care system to get the restorative care they need.

South Dakota Native Americans experience some of the worst oral health disparities in the country.  In FY 2013, 1,316 Native American children had to be treated under general anesthesia because of severe dental decay. Because oral diseases are overwhelmingly preventable, Delta Dental, along with its partners (the SD Dental Association, Indian Health Service, and the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board) decided to create a program called Circle of Smiles that focuses primarily on prevention and oral health education, but that also assists patients in accessing treatment by a dentist. 

“Lack of awareness on the importance of oral health is a problem across the country,” said Scott Jones, CEO of Delta Dental.  “But when combined with issues like poverty, access to care and potentially what some scientists believe may be a more virulent form of the disease in the Native American population, the outcomes are significant.”         

Circle of Smiles serves children age(s) nine and under, pregnant women, mothers of young children and persons with diabetes. The project’s goal is to provide preventive oral health care to help prevent dental diseases and ultimately reduce the need for more extensive and expensive care.  By providing community-based care with education and care coordination, the project hopes to decrease the high incidence of oral diseases, improve patients’ access to dental care, and lower costs. 

The Circle of Smiles Program is already demonstrating results.  According to Dr. Thomas E. Benjamin, DDS, Chief Dental Officer for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, “Circle of Smiles just strengthens the whole dental program here.  People are starting to understand more about their dental health.” 


The Circle of Smiles project was supported by Funding Opportunity Number CMS-1C1-12-0001 from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. The contents of this release are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of HHS or any of its agencies.




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