IHS Dental Impressions
January 2018
Photo of IHS Dental Health Professionals 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.

Pine Ridge Dental Clinic Renovation Nears Completion
Photo of Pine Ridge Hospital Exterior

First impressions count.

When people see the newly remodeled dental clinic at Pine Ridge Hospital for the first time, the typical reaction is “Wow!” says CAPT José Rodriguez, adding, “Yeah, they are surprised.”

At the end of January, he and his staff will finally get to unveil the beautiful, newly remodeled clinic, with modifications that include a new updated panoramic digital radiography unit, an expanded dental lab and a staff breakroom that doubles as a training and meeting area.

Beyond physical improvements, a major remodel brings a big morale boost for the staff, notes Dr. Rodriguez, Chief Dentist at the IHS Pine Ridge Service Unit and a Captain in the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

Remodeling sends a subtle message to patients that their health care providers care about them and want to invest in the latest updates possible, he notes. The clinic serves a patient population of 30,000 to 35,000, primarily Oglala Lakota, on the Pine Ridge Reservation in Southwestern South Dakota. It’s the eighth-largest reservation in the United States.

When he arrived at Pine Ridge after an Advanced General Practice Residency (AGPR) 18 years ago, the facility was five years old. Dr. Rodriquez notes that it’s seen some wear and tear since then, so the staff was particularly excited when funds for the renovation became available from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the parent agency of IHS. HHS provided $1.62 million. With input from the staff, additional improvements were approved using funds provided by IHS.

The dental clinic had to stay within the same footprint in the hospital, so the new design and layout of the equipment presented an opportunity to improve efficiency, Dr. Rodriguez says. “We tried to maximize what we had before.”

The staff was able to change the layout to make the 17-chair clinic both more accessible for patients in wheelchairs and more open and spacious for day-to-day work activities.

But the most amazing feat may be that the clinic remained open (though at reduced capacity) throughout the entire remodeling process, so patient care could continue.

“Because of the layout of the dental clinic, with an east and west wing, we were able to work in one side and then move to the other,” Dr. Rodriguez says. “We never closed the doors.”

He rattles off some of the major improvements the remodeling will bring, including the updated panoramic digital X-ray unit. The staff eliminated an old darkroom, where X-rays were once developed. That allowed them to expand the small dental lab, used primarily for repairing dentures and training students during externships, into a larger space that can accommodate five or six people.

One of the most noticeable and reassuring changes for patients, Dr. Rodriguez says, was relocating the sinks where doctors scrub up, “so patients can see that the doctor is washing his hands and talk to him at the same time.”

Improved infection control was accomplished by updating the sterilization room in accordance with newer guidelines.

A number of other changes make for a more pleasant and efficient work environment for staff, and are only partly cosmetic — such as shiny new floors that look like polished wood, but are actually easy-to-sanitize vinyl flooring. There is also more storage for clinic supplies, as well as lockers in each operatory, where staff can secure their belongings while they work.

Incentives for Recruitment

Dr. Rodriguez hopes the excitement of working in a brand-new facility with state-of-the-art equipment and a freshly energized staff will help Pine Ridge fill several openings — two for dentists, three for dental assistants, one for a hygienist and one for a front-desk receptionist. His staff currently includes four dentists (one pediatric), six dental assistants and two hygienists.

One feature at Pine Ridge that might prove attractive to new dentists is the opportunity to gain experience with dental patients who have acute medical problems and comorbidities, because the clinic’s hospital location facilitates consultations with internal medicine staff. “I’m a face-to-face person,” Dr. Rodriguez says, adding that it’s reassuring to having physicians on site for consults.

Special recruiting incentives and relocation reimbursement are also available, he notes. Pine Ridge, as well as most facilities within the Great Plains Area, has these incentives to help facilitate hiring in what would otherwise be hard-to-fill opportunities to serve a population in need of health care professionals.

Dr. Rodriguez is happy to note that Pine Ridge’s clinic renovation is not the only remodeling project in the Great Plains Area dental program. The health center in Kyle, SD, a satellite clinic of the Pine Ridge Service Unit, is currently expanding its dental clinic; Rosebud Hospital, about two hours east of Pine Ridge on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, is also undergoing an extensive renovation.

“This half of the state has less than 10 percent of the total population,” Dr. Rodriguez says. The mostly rural area is close to Mount Rushmore and the ruggedly beautiful Black Hills and offers spectacular skiing and snowboarding. For lovers of the outdoors, that’s “part of the allure,” he says. There’s also hiking, camping, wildlife photography and a wealth of other outdoor attractions.

And of course, there’s the gratification of seeing the surprise on patients’ faces when they walk into their beautiful state-of-the-art clinic for the first time.

Apply for an IHS Dental Externship!
Dental Externship Program Advertisement

If you’re a third-year dental student in search of a rewarding and unique training opportunity, the IHS Division of Oral Health (DOH) Dental Externship Program can provide you with the perfect opportunity to:

  • Gain valuable clinical experience in an Indian health facility!
  • Develop your clinical skills under expert supervision!
  • Contribute to an interdisciplinary team of health care professionals!

You can apply to fulfill a dental externship during the summer before your final year of dental school. As a dental extern, a hands-on experience in public health dentistry will enable you to make an informed career choice in the months before graduation. What’s more, you’ll have an opportunity to establish relationships with mentors and dental health professionals that could open doors for your career.

You'll also have an opportunity to decide whether working in a non-typical clinical setting, being mentored by an experienced staff and providing much-needed care to a medically underserved patient population is your calling. An Indian health dental career offers you a chance to work in state-of-the-art facilities with excellent pay and benefits and eligibility for financial freedom through the IHS Loan Repayment Program (LRP).

Invite IHS to Speak at Your Dental School!

Did you know that a staff member of the IHS Division of Oral Health (DOH) can come to your school to speak to dental students about career opportunities in Indian health? We often speak at official dental school functions, student organization meetings and other events, as well as participate in webinars or conference calls.

We can discuss topics including:

  • How a public health career with IHS differs from a private dental practice.
  • Descriptions of the 12 IHS Areas and some of the spectacular locations and state-of-the-art facilities in which you can choose to practice.
  • Compensation, benefits and special recruiting incentives.
  • The three career paths available in Indian health: Federal Civil Service, Tribal or Urban Indian Program hire or as an officer with the US Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps.
  • The IHS Dental Externship Program (see above).
  • The IHS Loan Repayment Program (LRP) and other financial and student opportunities.

Please reach out to Dr. Timothy Lozon for more information.


Job Opportunities

Whether you’re beginning your dental career, seeking a licensed pediatric dental specialist position or 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&B
Rockville, MD 20857
Phone: 800-447-3368


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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.

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