Provider and community perspectives of dental therapists in Alaska's Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta: A qualitative programme evaluation

Community Dent Oral Epidemiol. 2019 Dec;47(6):502-512. doi: 10.1111/cdoe.12492. Epub 2019 Aug 29.


Objectives: Dental therapists deliver preventive and basic restorative care and have been practicing since 2006 in Alaska's Yukon-Kuskokwim (YK) Delta. In this qualitative programme evaluation, we documented health providers' and community members' experiences with dental therapy. The goal of the evaluation was to develop a conceptual model of dental care delivery in Alaska Native Communities centred on dental therapists.

Methods: We developed semi-structured interview scripts and used snowball sampling to recruit 16 health providers with experience providing care in the YK Delta and 125 community members from six YK Delta Communities in 2017 and 2018. The six communities were a stratified convenience sample based on community-level exposure to dental therapists (high, medium and no exposure). Interview data were digitally recorded, transcribed, verified for accuracy and coded inductively into conceptual domains using content analytic methods.

Results: Providers believed individuals living in the YK Delta have benefited from clinic-based restorative care and community-based education provided by dental therapists. The restricted scope of dental therapy practice limits the complexity of care that may be offered to patients. However, community members expressed high satisfaction with the quality of care provided by dental therapists. Community members noted more widespread knowledge and evolving norms about oral health and believed dental therapists are helping to prevent disease and improve quality of life. Participants believed access to dental care for children has improved over the years, but felt that many adults in the YK Delta continue to have unmet needs. A potential barrier to sustained programme effectiveness is low retention of dental therapists in the region, driven primarily by reports that dental therapists feel overworked, stressed and geographically isolated.

Conclusions: Dental therapists have contributed to the dental care delivery system in Alaska's YK Delta. Future opportunities remain within the system to address the needs of adults, develop strategies to retain dental therapists in the region and incorporate evidence-based, prevention-oriented strategies to improve oral health behaviours and reduce oral diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alaska
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Child
  • Dental Care*
  • Humans
  • Program Evaluation
  • Quality of Life*
  • Yukon Territory