|On June 1, public health research assistant Joaquin Gallegos and his mentor, Terry Batliner, DDS, MBA, moved an audience of American Indian dentists with their presentation, “Native Oral Health Problems and Solutions,” at the 24th Annual Conference of the Society of American Indian Dentists on the Tulalip Reservation near Seattle. The pair described the scarcity of nationally or locally developed Native oral health data—little has been published since 1999—and reported on startlingly high rates of tooth decay and gum disease uncovered during a 2012 oral health assessment at New Mexico’s Santo Domingo Pueblo.
The purpose of the Santo Domingo Pueblo study was to develop evidence about the prevalence of oral disease in children and adults. Batliner and three registered dental hygienists, assisted by Gallegos, conducted oral examinations on 399 randomly selected individuals.
As a result, the Kewa Health Corporation and Santo Domingo Health Center for the first time have tribal-specific, accurate data for planning and intervention measures. The data is being used to demonstrate the need for access to care in Indian Country and has been used in testimony and deliberations about changing state practice acts.
Gallegos (Jicarilla Apache/Pueblo of Santa Ana), a 21-year-old senior at the University of Colorado, is recognized by the Center for Native American Youth as a Champion for Change. Batliner (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma), an associate clinical professor at the Colorado School of Public Health, was also the principal researcher of a similar assessment study conducted in 2010 on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.