The Kodiak Area Native Association’s first dental health aide therapist received her certification last week. The dental health aide program, which is sponsored through the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and the University of Washington, strives to improve dental care in rural areas of Alaska.
It teaches students to provide dental education and both “preventative and restorative services” like exams, fillings, and limited tooth extractions. After the program, dental health aide therapists can work directly with communities in rural Alaska under the supervision of dentists.
For Amanda Miles, who grew up in the city of Kodiak, her job means establishing a connection with patients.
“It kind of boils down to trust. Trust is a big thing and being able to take the time to listen and understand. I really like working with patients who kind of have had a not-so-positive experience in the past and being able to build them up and gain their trust and their confidence again.”
She says she worked as a dental assistant for almost ten years and was at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage when the program was first starting up.
“When I was approached by our health director and she told me there were funds available to sponsor somebody to go into the DHAT program, she asked me to think about, if I wanted to apply and I responded, ‘Oh, I’m going. I’m applying.’”
Miles remembers controversy surrounding the program when it first began.
“Some of the dentists thought that dental therapists would be taking away from their practice, or I think some of the other things were that DHATs might not know their boundaries.”
Miles says she isn’t afraid to refer patients to a dentist should they request services that fall outside her scope of practice.
She says up until receiving certification, she was fulfilling the requirements of her preceptorship, the period of mentorship that DHATs receive. That’s separate from the two years of courses students attend, first in Anchorage and then in Bethel. Miles faced certain challenges in balancing her life while attending those classes.
She says she’s a single mother and she didn’t feel comfortable leaving her daughter in daycare while she attended the program in Anchorage. She says during that time, her daughter stayed with her mother in Kodiak, and they used technology to keep in touch.
“My daughter was my biggest motivation. I grew up with a single mom as well, and I wanted to do better and provide a better life for my daughter. Not that my life was bad, but be able to show her how to be strong and independent.”
Miles says she’s learned to prioritize in order to balance her family life and her demanding job.
She says now that she’s completed her 400 hours of training and received certification, she’ll be able to work under indirect supervision.