George Blue Spruce became the first American Indian dentist in the United States in 1956. Since earning his degree, Blue Spruce has worked to recruit American Indians into health-care professions
Examining dentist shortage and recruitment efforts in American Indian communities.
The Arizona Republic on Monday examined efforts to boost the number of American Indians in health professions, particularly dental care. There are fewer than 150 American Indian dentists in the U.S., or about one for every 32,000 American Indians, Carol Grant, director of American Indian Health Professions at A.T. Still University, said.I have had the opportunity to work on American Indian Reservations in California but as of yet have not met an American Indian dentist or other Native American health professional at the health facility.
In addition, a report released in 2000 by the American Dental Association found that tooth-decay rates are four times higher among American Indian children than the general population, Frank Ayers, dean of student affairs at Creighton University's School of Dentistry, said. The key to addressing such disparities is to recruit dental students from the American Indian community, he added. "If a student has a strong tribal affiliation when you bring them into the profession, they are much more likely to return to the reservation and help their people," Ayers said. Only about 30 American Indian students on average enroll in dental schools each year, according to Ayers.
George Blue Spruce, the nation's first American Indian dentist and an assistant dean at the university, travels across the country encouraging young American Indians to pursue careers in health care. A.T. Still University has more American Indian dentists in training than any other school in the country, mostly because of Blue Spruce's efforts, according to the Republic.