Alaska's King

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Location: Alaska, United States

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Thursday, June 02, 2005

Greedy Dentists want to Screw Alaskans Mouths

A group of greedy dentists, more concerned about paying for their lavish lifestyles than about the health of Alaskans, want the State to sue the Federal Government on their behalf. They don't even want to spend the money to screw Alaskans out of decent care, and instead expect Alaskans to pay for it. And they can't even be bothered to updte their website in the last 7 years!

This appeared in the Anchorage Daily News on 2 June 2005:

"State and national dental groups have taken a new tack in fighting the use of dental health therapists in rural Alaska. Now they want the state to sue to stop the federal-private program on the basis of state sovereignty.

And most people who've watched this issue thought the issue was healthy teeth. The state should decline to sue.

The logic in the dentists' call derives from the fact that the therapists are certified under federal rules because they're in a federal program. The dentists -- not all dentists, but the dental establishment -- argue the state has a right to police health professionals and need not defer to federal officials.

Their real goal is to stop the program. They say that allowing dental health aide therapists to perform some dental work like drilling, filling and extractions is dangerous and should be reserved to dentists.

But the need for better, closer dental care in Alaska's Bush villages is urgent. And there just aren't enough dentists in the rural hubs to do all the work there is.

That's why federal and private money -- including money from the Rasmuson Foundation -- has bankrolled two years of training in New Zealand for Alaskans to become dental health aide therapists.

The New Zealand program is a long-established one, not some fly-by-night operation. After two years of training, the therapists must do 400 hours of work with a fully qualified dentist before they can begin a limited practice on their own -- and that practice begins only with the dentist's approval.

The dental establishment, including the Alaska Dental Society, [who last updated their website in 1998], argues that this work should be done by dentists, not therapists. They say that using therapists subjects Alaska Natives to second-class dental care.

What matters to Natives and all Alaskans is decent dental care and good teeth. If the therapists can help where dentists don't ordinarily practice, let them.

If any of us go to a doctor's office or medical clinic, and a physician's aide or a nurse can do a competent job of taking care of our needs, we're glad for the help. We don't necessarily need a doctor, but we do need a trained and certified professional who knows what he or she is doing.

If a therapist can do it right -- after intensive training and rigorous work under the supervision of a dentist -- then rural Alaskans will be better off. The dental society argues they can better serve the Bush by recruiting volunteers for temporary work and bringing dentists north on longer, paid contracts. Good. State, federal and Native health officials should cooperate with dental groups to get that done.

But such a program needn't compete with what the therapists are doing. And calling for a suit over state sovereignty is a ploy to kill a program that hasn't had a real test here yet.

The dental society should lend its skills, care and energy to help the therapist program work.

BOTTOM LINE: State should say no to dentists' call to sue. No teeth will be fixed in court."


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