Category Archives: Native Americans in Oral Health
In 1975 Jessica Rickert, Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, DDS, became the first recognized American Indian woman dentist. When this descendent of Chief Whitepigeon attended the University of Michigan School of Dentistry in the early 1970s, she was the only American Indian in a class of about 150 students. This was also a time when there were very few female dentists or female dental students.
In 2005 Rickert received the American Dental Association’s 2005 Access Recognition Award for leadership in helping people in need gain access to dental care. In particular, she was nominated for her work educating American Indians on dental care and encouraging them to pursue careers in the field. In 2009 she was honored for her work by being inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and several Jesuit universities (Creighton, Gonzaga, Marquette) have joined forces with the Jesuit Dental School Recruitment Collaborative to address the disparities seen in the oral health of Native Americans. Together they are creating a pipeline collaborative into the dental profession for Native American students with strong tribal and cultural affiliation.
Through this collaborative Creighton provides a four-week Summer Enrichment Program annually for first, second and third year undergraduate students who want to investigate the profession of dentistry. Six Native American students are able to attend this program each year at no cost to the individual. Qualified Native American students will be encouraged to apply directly for admission to Creighton and Marquette Schools of Dentistry. Undergraduate Native American students who need to strengthen their undergraduate preparation for dental school will be encouraged to apply to Creighton’s highly successful, existing Dental Post-Baccalaureate Program. This one-year program will be expanded from 5 to 8 students and will include 3 Native American students.
The Need for American Indian Dentists
George Blue Spruce, Jr., DDS, MPH, Assistant Surgeon General – USPHS (Retired)
A wise American Indian man stated “We have seen the lightning and have heard the thunder—but when is it ever going to rain?”
He was voicing the frustration of the Federal Government’s failure to live up to the treaty obligations that promised resources to help American Indian people in their struggle to survive…after their land had been taken away.
It was nearly 50 years before congressional legislation recognized American Indian tribes as sovereign governments and thus began a new era in Federal Government/American Indian tribal relationships. However, it was not until July, 1970, when the President of the United States, before a general session of Congress, delivered the first “American Indian Message” when he stated, “On every scale of human measurement, whether it be employment, income, health or education…the Indian…the first American…ranks at the bottom!”
The Society of American Indian Dentists promotes dental health in the American Indian community; encourages American Indian youth to pursue a career in the profession of dentistry; serves as a resource for assistance to American Indian students interested in the profession of dentistry; provides role-model leadership; promotes American Indian heritage and traditional values; and, promotes and supports the unique concerns of American Indian dentists.