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Skagit Valley College and Swinomish Indian Tribal Community partner to launch a new nationally accredited Dental Therapy Education program

Aug 19, 2022

Skagit Valley College, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community

This fall, Skagit Valley College (SVC), in partnership with Swinomish Indian Tribal Community (Swinomish), will launch the first Dental Therapy Education Program in Washington state to address the on-going oral health workforce disparities among underrepresented minorities specifically, the American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities.

dəxʷx̌ayəbus-Dental Therapy Education Program at SVC is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) and has been granted the accreditation status of approval with reporting requirements. The Commission is a specialized accrediting body recognized by the United States Department of Education. The Commission on Dental Accreditation can be contacted at (800) 232-6108 or at 211 E. Chicago Avenue, Suite 1900, Chicago, Illinois 60611. The commission’s web address is: https://coda.ada.org/en.

The Dental Therapy Program was recently granted accreditation by CODA after a decade of advocacy, collaboration, planning, developing, and implementation between Swinomish and SVC. It is the first education program of its kind in the lower 48 contiguous states to receive accreditation. 

“We are very excited to receive accreditation and begin offering the program this fall,” said Dr. Tom Keegan, SVC President. “Graduates will help provide much needed high-quality dental care to tribal communities across the country.”

“This has been a truly collaborative effort inspired by the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and many others,” said Keegan. “It has required vision, innovation, persistence, technical expertise, and a commitment to serve others.”

“We are very pleased and thankful that the dəxʷx̌ayəbus-Dental Therapy Program has now received accreditation,” said Swinomish Tribal Chairman Steve Edwards. “Swinomish and SVC staff have worked for years to develop this important training program and then to take the steps necessary for accreditation.”

“Dental therapists bring culturally appropriate oral health care to Native communities,” continued Chairman Edwards. “There is an unmet need for dental therapists, and now this training program will make dental therapy training available here in Washington, so students won’t have to move far from home to learn these valuable skills.”

The name of the Dental Therapy Program is dəxʷx̌ayəbus, which is a Lushootseed phrase pronounced as dahf-hi-ya-buus and translates to a Place of Smiles. Lushootseed is a common language of coastal Salish tribes, made up of many local dialects of Native Americans throughout the Puget Sound region.

This new professional dental education program is co-located at Skagit Valley College’s Mount Vernon Campus and Swinomish Indian Tribal Community’s Dental Clinic. The program aims to deliver “smiles” because smiles are strong indicators of personal confidence as well as physical and mental health.

The cohort-based program is a rigorous three-years curriculum and focuses on student-centered teaching and learning with a commitment to equitable student outcomes.

The Dental Therapy Program was developed through collaboration of numerous partners, including: Swinomish Tribal Senate, departmental leadership, and community members; SVC and supporting departments; world-wide dental therapy advocates; Washington Dental Therapy Education Advisory Committee; Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board; ARCORA; Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies; Kellogg Foundation; and the National Indian Health Board.

“We could not have more supportive partners,” said Rachael Hogan, DDS, Swinomish Dental Clinic Director and Director/Chair of the program. “We are grateful to each of them for their continued persistence, guidance, and optimism for our vision of bringing holistic, patient-centered, culturally responsive, and clinically excellent oral health care to underserved and underrepresented communities.”

To learn more about the program, visit skagit.edu/dentaltherapy.