The July 15 editorial “Good hygiene” conveyed the very important message that poor oral health can lead to many serious medical problems. This would be an excellent time to hire former Navy and Army dental technicians to provide this much-needed service.
I was a Navy dental technician from 1955 to 1960. We were trained in all areas of dentistry except orthodontics. Our duties included helping the dentist identify accident and wartime casualties by charting the teeth of the deceased. I was shocked and disappointed that when I left the service I couldn’t get a job at a Veterans Affairs hospital performing all the duties I was trained for because I was not a licensed hygienist. I dare say our training and experience was just as good, if not better.
Marie Q. Snowden, Shepherdstown, W.Va.
As a Native American, I am familiar with the problem of scarce access to oral health care, a problem not helped by Congress’s chronic underfunding of the Indian Health Service. I grew up with children who, by the age of 5, were missing all their baby teeth and youth who pulled their own teeth to escape pain rather than wait the months it would take to see a dentist. I will never forget a tribal leader describing to me the loss of a young relative from an abscessed tooth. That such stories are commonplace is unacceptable.
Yet Native American communities are leading the way in transforming dental therapy in ways described in the July 15 editorial “Good hygiene.” Ten years ago Alaska Natives created the job of dental therapist, who perform quality care. Now 40,000 people in remote villages, where even water is a luxury, have better access to oral health care.
Special-interest groups such as the American Dental Association lobby to hinder access, which leaves young people like me the most at-risk. Lack of health care shouldn’t be another issue weighing down our confidence and well-being. I’ve seen dental therapists change lives. Let our tribal leadership decide how to best serve Native American children and prevent rotten teeth from afflicting future generations.
Joaquin Gallegos, Washington
The writer is a policy fellow at the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute.