A 15-member NYUCD outreach team returned to Alaska in May, to a remote region, Yukon Flats, located above the Arctic Circle. They were accompanied by faculty and students from Louisiana State University School of Dentistry and Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health (ASDOH). The joint mission to the villages of Venetie and Fort Yukon marked the first step in what is expected to become a major effort by many dental schools to improve access to care in Alaska, where the caries rate is two-and-a-half times higher than at any other location in the United States.
Dr. Stuart Hirsch, NYUCD's Associate Dean for International Affairs & Development, and the mission's clinical director, said that the dentists from Louisiana State and ASDOH were a great addition to the team, and he anticipates that they will lead follow-up missions. In the future, NYUCD will go to other areas in Alaska and will invite other interested dental schools to join them, thereby having the capability to deploy multiple teams to provide more care to more villages.
The team screened and treated 291 local adults and children, as well as 15 adults and children flown to Venetie from remote Arctic outposts. In addition to providing extractions, restorations, sealants, and fluoride varnishes for the children, they also trained a health aide in Venetie to apply the varnish and provided the aide and a dentist who travels to Fort Yukon weekly from Fairbanks with enough fluoride varnish so that they could reapply it every three months for a year.
"Early intervention is key to successful oral health for these children," said Dr. Peter Catapano, NYUCD Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatric Dentistry. "Children in these villages rarely get preventive care. Children, as well as adults, tend not to see a dentist until they are in great pain and the need is urgent. In fact, many children with extensive needs end up hospitalized in Anchorage. By reapplying the fluoride varnishes every three months, we hope to achieve a minimum 50 percent decrease in disease within one year among children in Yukon villages." This preventive model was used in Kasigluk in the Yukon Delta in February 2008, when a local health aide was trained to reapply the varnish at regular three-month intervals. This model has since been implemented on NYUCD outreach missions to Hudson, New York; the Dominican Republic; Nicaragua; and Honduras.
The outreach team had originally planned to travel to Alaska in February, but when they arrived in Seattle to board a connecting flight to Fairbanks, they learned that all flights had been canceled because Mount Redoubt, a 9,000-foot volcano, was erupting. The mission was sponsored by the Rasmuson Foundation, a private foundation dedicated to supporting well-managed, nonprofit organizations in Alaska, and by the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments, a local Eskimo organization.
In addition to Dr. Hirsch and Dr. Catapano, the members of the outreach team from NYUCD included Ms. Jill B. Fernandez, Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatric Dentistry; Dr. Gayle Miranda, Clinical Assistant Professor of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery; Ms. Rachel Hill, Program Administrator in the Office of International Affairs & Development; Ms. Amanda Meissner, Program Administrator in the Office of International Affairs & Development; Dr. Patrick So, Advanced Education Program in Pediatric Dentistry, '09; Dr. Trinh Pham, Advanced Education Program in Pediatric Dentistry, '09; Dr. Jaepil Kim, Advanced Education Program in Pediatric Dentistry, '10; Dr. My Tran, Advanced Education Program in Pediatric Dentistry, '10; and the following students from the DDS Class of 2010:
Mr. Syed M. Fahd, Mr. Charles Leung, Mr. Michael W. Wahl, Ms. Sarah Saucerman, and Ms. Manmeet Hothi.
The members of the outreach team from ASDOH were Dr. Maureen Romer, Director of Special Care Dentistry, and Dr. Cassandra Jones, '09. Dr. David Treff, a resident in the Advanced Education Program in Pediatric Dentistry, '10, represented Louisiana State University School of Dentistry.