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Indian Health Service The Federal Health Program for American Indians and Alaska Natives

Phoenix Area

Dental

The Phoenix Area of the Indian Health Service (PAIHS) oversees the health care delivery to over 140,000 Native American users from 44 different tribes in the tri-state area of Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.

Dental services are provided in many different environments; from routine care in a small clinic at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, to fluoride varnish placement in a reservation school, to Pediatric and Oral Surgery services provided in a hospital operating room. The PAIHS supports 23 dental clinics; the largest is at the Phoenix Indian Medical Center with 22 operatories. Many programs have small 2 operatory satellite clinics associated with their program. Most facilities are operated directly by the IHS, but there is an increasing number of tribally operated programs.

The PAIHS serves over 45 different tribes, each with its own culture and customs. Although modern culture has had its influence, most tribes, have managed to hold on to traditional customs, language, and traditions. Dental staff from the local community frequently assist new dentists in translation. Traditional medicine and practices are integrated into medical care at many clinics.

The PAIHS is fortunate to have an exceptional staff who take pride in their work, and use their skills to make a difference for the people they serve. Specialists assist patients and Area dentists in dental care delivery. The Phoenix Area has a Periodontist an Oral Surgeon, and five Pediatric Dentists. Training given by the specialists has contributed to the professional growth and development of Area dentists, and the quality and scope of care provided to communities served. Expanded Functions Dental Assistants are utilized in many of our clinics to increase productivity and access to care. The professional staff have routine quality assurance reviews, peer reviews, and all our direct care facilities are fully accredited by a major accrediting agency.

The oral health status of the Phoenix Area is characterized by high rates of dental decay. Additionally there is a high level of Type II Diabetes, with its accompanying complication of periodontal disease. The high rate of periodontal disease and dental caries has led to an alarmingly high rate of tooth loss in the elder population.

In the face of the high dental disease rate, large unmet needs, and limited program resources, dental programs have used a community based public health model of care to maximize available resources and increase the access to care. Prevention programs are a key component to the Phoenix Area Dental Program. School based fluoride varnish programs, water fluoridation, and dental sealants have all helped reduce the destruction caused by caries. Standardized diabetic treatment protocols, the use of dental hygienists and specially trained dental assistants are utilized to decrease the amount and severity of periodontal disease.

Collaborations with outside organizations have helped Area dental programs extend their ability to provide services and access to care. Collaborations with the State of Arizona and the University of Pittsburg have led to an innovative Tele-dentistry program allowing specialty consults from field clinics, and pediatric dental examinations at schools performed by auxiliary staff, and completed by a dentist in clinic.

Collaborations with the American Dental Association and dental schools throughout America have placed volunteer dentists and student externs in clinics treating patients.

The Phoenix Area has historically been active in dental research in combination with major dental schools. Pioneering studies showing the link between type II diabetes and periodontal disease were conducted at Sacaton Arizona with the Pima Tribe. Currently a study is underway in Whiteriver Arizona examining the effectiveness of Chlorhexidine varnish on reducing dental caries.

Along with research, the Area is active in sponsoring continuing dental education at the Phoenix Indian Medical Center. Older facilities in the Phoenix Area have struggled to keep up with the growing population and are only able to provide access to care for less than 25% of the population. Congress has supported the construction of new facilities in Parker and Hopi Arizona. Additionally, new and larger clinics are planned for Phoenix, Yuma, and San Carlos Arizona.

Contact Information

Office of Health programs: 602-364-5179

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