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IHS Division of Oral Health funds nine major awards to address dental health program needs

by Christopher Halliday, DDS, MPH, Deputy Director, Division of Oral Health, Indian Health Service

The Indian Health Service Division of Oral Health recently made nine funding awards to organizations that address some of the most serious and longstanding challenges to high quality dental care in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. The awardees will coordinate regional resources, train dentists and other dental health personnel, and advise health programs in order to improve dental health care.

Our goal with these awards is to continue building on improvements in dental care and dental health across Indian Country. Dental programs operate most effectively when their personnel have the necessary training and resources to provide excellent care for our patients. This funding represents our continued commitment of resources to meeting these critical needs.

Starting with the current fiscal year, we increased the Dental Clinical and Preventive Support Centers funded from eight to nine, and increased the amount of funding awarded to each from $250,000 to $350,000 per year over five years. The new awardee, the IHS Great Plains Area Office, joins the previous eight awardees from the 2015-2020 award cycle. Since some awardees cover multiple states, all 12 IHS areas are now represented through these nine awardees.

The purpose of the IHS Dental Clinical and Preventive Support Centers program is to combine IHS and tribal resources and infrastructure in order to address broad challenges and opportunities associated with preventive and clinical dental programs. Centers may work simultaneously to improve many different dental programs in a region, providing support, guidance, training, and enhancement to these programs, which then provide services to patients and communities.

IHS first launched the Dental Clinical and Preventive Support Centers in 2000 and these recent awards build upon the success of these centers. In recent years, the centers have helped IHS achieve dental health performance goals which demonstrated improvements in the quality of dental care provided.

Due to their efforts on oral health promotion and disease prevention activities over the past two decades, one in three American Indian and Alaska Native children receive the protective benefit of fluoride each year, and one in six children have received dental sealants that help prevent against tooth decay.  These collaborative efforts by the Dental Clinical and Preventive Support Centers and over 300 IHS, tribal, and urban dental programs have led to a 5% decrease in Native children that have ever had cavities, a 20% decrease in children with unfilled cavities, and a 10% decrease in Native adults having gum disease.

The Division of Oral Health will continue to serve as the primary source of management and administration of IHS clinical and community prevention programs for oral health. Working in partnership with tribes, tribal organizations and urban Indian health organizations, we coordinate national efforts to share knowledge and build capacity. IHS dentistry focuses on one-on-one patient care as well as community prevention programs that include water fluoridation, dental screenings, dental sealants, and fluoride varnishes.

Current Dental Clinical and Preventive Support Centers awards:

  • Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board
  • Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium
  • Native American Professional Parent Resources, Inc.
  • California Rural Indian Health Board, Inc.
  • United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc.
  • Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes
  • Southwest Support Center (IHS Navajo, Phoenix, and Tucson Area Offices)
  • IHS Oklahoma City Area Office
  • IHS Great Plains Area Office

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Christopher Halliday, DDS, MPH, Deputy Director, Division of Oral Health, Indian Health Service

Dr. Christopher Gordon Halliday, a retired rear admiral in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, has served as an assistant surgeon general, chief professional officer of the USPHS Dental category, and chief of staff to the surgeon general of the United States. His experience also includes serving as a former chief dental officer of the Indian Health Service and as inaugural dean of the Missouri School of Dentistry and Oral Health.