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Navajo Children Facing Rapid Dental Decay

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Just 22 dental clinics attempt to serve over 225,000 residents, resulting in a dentist-to-patient ratio of 32.3 dentists per 100,000 residents, ranking among the lowest countrywide. 

?The oral health among Native Americans is abysmal with more than three times the disease of the rest of the country," said Terrence Batliner, DDS, MBA, associate director of the Center for Native Oral Health Research at the School of Public Health. "The number one problem is access to care."

The results of a study performed by the Colorado School of Public Health in the Journal of Public Health Dentistry showed that nearly 70% of children in the Navajo region had untreated tooth decay. That number has decreased from 82.9 in 1999. 

"The percentage of children with untreated decay appears to have declined in the past decade, although it remains today substantially higher (three to four times) than national averages," the study said.

As a result of the severity of the oral issues, most children have their dental procedures performed in an operating room compared to the dental office. Implementing dental therapists into the area is an idea that has been floated around to combat the issue, but the ADA has filed a suit to prevent them from practicing on the tribal land. 

"The American Dental Association is fighting the idea of dental therapists," Batliner said. "But many of us perceive dental therapists as a Native solution to a Native problem. Children and adults are suffering and this is a solution that can help."

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