IHS Dental Impressions
February 2017
Photo of IHS Dental Health Professional and Patient
A Unique Place to Practice Dentistry

The Indian Health Service (IHS) Division of Oral Health (DOH) offers dental health professionals an opportunity to practice dentistry within interdisciplinary team environments serving American Indian and Alaska Native patients. IHS dentists work in some of the most scenic, recreationally abundant and culturally rich areas of the continental United States and Alaska. Indian health careers — Opportunity. Adventure. Purpose.

A New Approach to Treating Dental Decay in Kids
Frank Mendoza, DDS, Pediatric Dental Specialist
Warm Springs Health and Wellness Center, Warm Springs, OR

When he first became a dentist, Frank Mendoza didn’t realize his specialty was going to be treating children. “But as you work, you find out why people come to you. I was seeing lots of kids and their parents trusted me.”

After serving IHS for 35 years as a US Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps officer, Dr. Mendoza now works as a civil service pediatric dentist at Warm Springs Health and Wellness Center in Warm Springs, OR.

Photo of Frank Mendoza, DDS, Pediatric Dental Specialist with Patient

A college math and science professor for 10 years before going into dentistry, Mendoza received his dental degree from the University of North Carolina in 1982 with a one-year Governor’s scholarship grant followed by a three-year scholarship from the National Health Service Corps (NHSC). Since IHS was one of the options available to pay back the NHSC obligation, Dr. Mendoza thought working with Native Americans would be a great way to help others and experience new cultures.

Dr. Mendoza’s dental career has been far reaching. His first assignment was at Lukachukai, a two-chair clinic at a boarding school on the Navajo Reservation. “After my three-year payback, I was hooked and decided to continue with IHS,” he says. In 1985 he transferred to Cherokee Indian Hospital in Cherokee, NC, then returned in 1989 to the Navajo Area as Chief Dentist at Winslow Indian Hospital in Winslow, AZ.

The Navajo Area sponsored his two-year residency in pediatric dentistry at the University of Minnesota, which he completed in 1993. Because tooth decay in children is a common problem in Native communities and treatment for dental caries is often provided in the hospital under general anesthesia, Dr. Mendoza chose to get additional training in using hospital operating rooms to provide adequate treatment to children. After completing his in-service training, he was assigned to Navajo’s Chinle Service Unit as the Navajo Area Pediatric Dental Specialist.

One of the treatments Dr. Mendoza uses to treat dental carries is silver nitrate, which is an antimicrobial agent first used in the 1890s by G.V. Black, the father of modern dentistry. The silver kills bacteria, turning dental caries into black, glassy hard structures, which arrest the lesion.

“I got involved in 2009 when I noticed that some kids from the local Head Start program had black spots on their teeth; I marked it as decay, but parents said it was from silver nitrate treatment (by other dentists). They asked me why we weren’t using the technique, so I started looking into it.” Dr. Mendoza learned that an Oregon dentist was using silver nitrate and, after seeing a reduced need for hospital cases, a local insurer had its dentists become trained in the technique.

The technique is analogous to another treatment, silver diamine fluoride (SDF); both techniques provide silver ions to kill the bacteria. After learning how silver nitrate was being used and discussing it with Warm Springs Health and Wellness Center Dental Director, CEO and consultants, “we concluded that it was safe and would likely enhance the effectiveness of our program,” Dr. Mendoza says. Warm Springs received clearance from IHS Headquarters and began to present silver nitrate as an option to the traditional “drill and fill.”

After a thorough examination and upon parental consent, Dr. Mendoza follows a strict protocol in applying a 25 percent silver nitrate solution followed by a fluoride varnish five times over a three-month period. Since beginning the silver nitrate protocol, Warm Springs has seen a reduction from 66 percent to 35 percent of Head Start-age children requiring hospital treatment under general anesthesia for early childhood caries.

“After 35 years, I believe I finally have something that works to decrease the burden of decay. It’s safe, fast, easy and inexpensive,” Dr. Mendoza says. “This has given us a new tool to keep kids out of pain and out of the hospital. With this, we are seeing some significant changes.”

National Children’s Dental Health Month

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month! What began as Children’s Dental Health Day in 1949 has grown to become a month-long event observed nationally to raise awareness about the importance of oral health. The American Dental Association (ADA) promotes the event through posters, contests, health fairs, dental screenings, classroom presentations and dental office tours. The NCDHM message reaches millions of people in communities across the country and is supported by thousands of dental health professionals, health care providers and educators each year to promote good oral health to children, their caregivers, their teachers and others.

This year’s campaign slogan is “Choose Tap Water for a Sparkling Smile.” For more information about NCDHM and to order a poster or planning materials, visit here.


Job Opportunities

Whether you’re beginning your dental career, seeking a licensed pediatric specialist position or are considering a career move to Chief Dental Officer, we may have the right match for you.


Financial Freedom

Experience the financial freedom that comes from the IHS Loan Repayment Program (LRP) or the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) LRP. Live and work in some of the most scenic areas of the country while paying down your dental school debts.


Contact Us

Our dental recruiters and externship program team are here to help. Contact us if you have questions about current openings, the externship program or other areas of Indian health dentistry.

Indian Health Service
Division of Oral Health
5600 Fishers Lane
Mail Stop: 08N34 A
Rockville, MD 20857
Phone: 800-447-3368


Twitter-IHS Jobs

Twitter-IHS Jobs

Opportunity. Adventure. Purpose.
Careers with the Indian Health Service
The policy of the IHS is to provide absolute preference to qualified Indian applicants and employees who are suitable for federal employment in filling vacancies within the IHS. IHS is an equal opportunity employer.

If you received this email from a friend and would like to join our list: SUBSCRIBE.