Confronting Dental Decay In Indian Country | KNKX

Confronting Dental Decay In Indian Country

Credit Mark Arehart / KPLU

Much of the Swinomish Tribe have rotting teeth. Part of the reason goes back to how dental care was provided on the reservation with only monthly visits from dentists. Care has improved, but demand is now outpacing the staff's abilities. Tribal leaders hired a dental health aide therapist to help with the backlog of patients, but not everyone agrees it's the best move. 

Mark Arehart / KPLU

The rate of tooth decay among Native Americans is higher than any other population. While the dental community agrees it’s a major health crisis, they can’t reach consensus on how to solve the problem.

Ariel Van Cleave / KPLU


On the Swinomish Reservation in Washington’s Skagit Valley, one full-time dentist serves 3,000 patients. While it’s an improvement from years past when a rotating list of dentists would visit the tribe, it’s still not enough to treat the high number of people with rotting teeth. Tribal leaders are calling the current situation a “health crisis.”

Ariel Van Cleave / KPLU


Rotting teeth, a fear of the dentist’s drill, long lines out the clinic door: These challenges are facing the Swinomish Tribe.

For decades, dentists would visit the reservation once a month. And if you ask tribal member Aurelia Bailey what that was like, she says it was “horrific.”