South Dakota’s American Indian children experience some of
the worst oral health disparities in the country. In fact, preschool children within the
Aberdeen Area Indian Health Service have the highest tooth decay rate of any
population group in the country. This
statistic, along with several others, is what prompted Delta Dental of South
Dakota to begin a Native American oral health program called Circle of Smiles: Improving Oral Health in Indian Country.
With help from a three-year Federal grant, Delta Dental of
South Dakota and our project partners (the South Dakota Dental Association, the
Aberdeen Area Indian Health Service and the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s
Health Board) have a dedicated goal to improve the oral health of American
Indian children ages 0-9, pregnant women and mothers of young children, and people
with diabetes who are living on all nine South Dakota reservations.
The program will focus on reducing oral health disparities
by expanding the preventive oral health workforce in two areas: Dental
hygienists and community health workers. Delta Dental of South Dakota will hire
seven dental hygienists to work in reservation communities. In partnership,
American Indian Tribes will be hiring 15 community health workers called oral health
coordinators. Both workforces will be deployed in community health settings on
and near reservations to improve access to dental prevention services, oral
health education, and care coordination. Click here for a complete directory of our Circle of Smiles hygienists and oral health coordinators.
Children ages 0-9 will receive dental sealants, fluoride
varnishes and oral health cleanings and also oral health education. The dental hygienists will also provide all of the
preventive services while the OHCs will provide primarily education and case
management. The program will demonstrate to the communities how improved access
to preventative oral health services will reduce costs and untreated dental
disease which has long term consequences. In addition, the program will
demonstrate how dental extenders will help address workforce issues, including
the shortage of dentists across Indian Health Service and in many communities
across the nation.
The program hopes to improve oral health by significantly
increasing the amount of preventive oral health care services and oral health
education that is provided on the reservations, primarily in community-based
settings, including schools and Head Starts.
The Circle of Smiles staff is excited to provide oral health
care and promote healthy smiles across the reservations. Delta Dental of South
Dakota anticipates sustaining this effort long term by maintaining the dental
hygiene workforce on the reservations through Indian Health Service/Medicaid/private insurance
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