Increases in Indian Health Service (IHS) funding and dentist recruitment efforts have led to demonstrable improvements in the oral health of Native American children, according to ADA testimony to the House of Representatives.
Funding for the IHS' oral health division rose from $65 million in the 1990s to more than $159 million today, according to Henry Fields, DDS, chairman of the ADA's government affairs council. But more needs to be done, he noted.
Dr. Fields told lawmakers that a greater focus on recruiting more dentists has led to higher rates of utilization for Native American patients, both adults and children. The number of dentist vacancies in the IHS workforce has decreased significantly since 2009 -- from 140 to 40 -- largely thanks to Congress's attention to funding needs.
Dr. Fields also called for the following:
- A report by the IHS showing that direct hiring by the agency could enhance recruitment
- Adding $300,000 to the IHS budget to pay for the division's Early Childhood Caries Initiative
The ADA has joined several state dental societies to advance oral health through the Native American Oral Health Care Project, which emphasizes prevention programs, better access to dentures for elders, and the creation of an educational pipeline to help more Native Americans enter careers in dentistry, the association noted in a press release.