Isolated villages in Alaska face disparities in oral health and access to care. Dental health aides such as the primary dental health aide (PDHA) and the dental health therapist (DHAT) fill a critical role for providing dental care in Alaska. Our objective was to describe strengths and barriers to paediatric dental care for children living in remote Alaska villages from the perspectives of the community and the health care system.
This qualitative study collected data through semi-structured key informant interviews with community members (n = 19) and healthcare workers (n = 19) and focus groups with patients (n = 31 adolescents and 16 caregivers of children under 12 years) living in or providing health care to 3 remote villages in Alaska. Using an inductively developed codebook and a narrative approach, 3 researchers independently read and thematically analysed the transcripts.
Two themes emerged: (i) PDHAs and DHATs are perceived as sustainable and strongly positioned to meet the unique dental needs of the rural communities; (ii) PDHAs and DHATs face barriers that limit their effectiveness, and their distinct roles require clarification and administrative support.
Dental health aides, both PDHAs and DHATs, are well accepted in Alaska villages. An innate understanding of cultural norms and continuity of care are key elements driving village satisfaction. The potential exists administratively to strengthen the model with the implementation of clinical and office-system strategies to increase efficiency of the dental team. Culturally adapted implementation strategies will be critical to the successful expansion of new workforce models that are addressing health disparities.