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Dental students help close care gap at Indian reservation

CLEVELAND--Twenty-one senior dental students from Case Western Reserve University and four other schools are serving externships this summer at the Pine Ridge, S.D., Indian Reservation in a pilot project designed to assist the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) in providing much-needed dental care for the reservation's 40,000 residents.

Dennis Tommasone, an associate professor of dentistry at CWRU, developed the project in collaboration with the Indian Health Service, an agency of the PHS. Tommasone also supervised the externs during the project's first two weeks. Since then, CWRU Assistant Clinical Professor Ned Robertson has been supervising.

"There is a tremendous shortage of health care providers, both dentists and physicians, in the Public Health Service," Tommasone said. Just three dentists currently staff the 17-chair clinic that serves all 40,000 residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Moreover, the dental needs of the Lakota Oglala Sioux residents are four times the national average, according to the PHS, which is in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "There is a high rate of Baby Bottle Syndrome, untreated decay, and periodontal disease," the PHS reports.

The 21 students, including 12 from CWRU, are serving one- to three-week-long externships. The students deliver 40 hours of direct patient care per week and receive academic clinical credit for their service. Room and board are provided, but the students are not paid, nor are they compensated for their transportation costs. The first externships began June 1, and the project will end August 11.

Along with delivering clinical care, the project is designed to serve as a recruitment tool for the Indian Health Service program at Pine Ridge, which "has experienced some difficulty in recent years in recruiting suitable dental school graduates to fill entry-level dental officer vacancies," according to the externship agreement. Officials believe that students who participa
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Contact: Judith Bailey
jcb4@po.cwru.edu
216-368-4442
Case Western Reserve University
7-Jul-1999


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