Supply of care by dental therapists and emergency dental consultations in Alaska native communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta: a mixed methods evaluation

Community Dent Health. 2020 Aug 31;37(3):190-198. doi: 10.1922/CDH_00022Chi09.


Objectives: Examine the relationship between supply of care provided by dental therapists and emergency dental consultations in Alaska Native communities.

Methods: Explanatory sequential mixed-methods study using Alaska Medicaid and electronic health record (EHR) data from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC), and interview data from six Alaska Native communities. From the Medicaid data, we estimated community-level dental therapy treatment days and from the EHR data we identified emergency dental consultations. We calculated Spearman partial correlation coefficients and ran confounder-adjusted models for children and adults. Interview data collected from YKHC providers (N=16) and community members (N=125) were content analysed. The quantitative and qualitative data were integrated through connecting. Results were visualized with a joint display.

Results: There were significant negative correlations between dental therapy treatment days and emergency dental consultations for children (partial rank correlation = -0.48; p⟨0.001) and for adults (partial rank correlation = -0.18; p=0.03). Six pediatric themes emerged: child-focused health priorities; school-based dental programs; oral health education and preventive behaviors; dental care availability; healthier teeth; and satisfaction with care. There were four adult themes: satisfaction with care; adults as a lower priority; difficulties getting appointments; and limited scope of practice of dental therapy.

Conclusions: Alaska Native children, and to a lesser extent adults, in communities served more intensively by dental therapists have benefitted. There are high levels of unmet dental need as evidenced by high emergency dental consultation rates. Future research should identify ways to address unmet dental needs, especially for adults.

Keywords: Alaska Native communities; dental therapists; dental workforce; emergency dental care; health services research; mixed methods research.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alaska
  • Alaskan Natives*
  • Child
  • Dental Care
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Referral and Consultation
  • United States
  • Yukon Territory