The Main Chance

The Main Chance

Daniel E. Rose, D.D.S.*:

The Community Service Committee reports on the activities of MDA members involved in serving throughout the state of Minnesota. At times when discussing opportunities with members, at times I have heard comments such as, “If I volunteer, I want to do something that will make a difference .” This article will describe an opportunity for dentists to make a significant difference for a population in need.

The Indian Health Service is experiencing an acute shortage of dentists across the country, and the reservations here in Minnesota are no exception. The White Earth Reservation has been identified by the American Dental Association’s Dentist Volunteer Program and the Minnesota Dental Association’s Community Service Committee as an area of critical need.

The White Earth Reservation lies within portions of Becker, Clearwater, and Mahnomen counties. This reservation has more than 20,000 enrolled members with a per capita income of less than $5,000 and an unemployment rate of nearly 25%. The dental clinic is currently staffed by three dentists. Not only is the patient-to-dentist ratio high, the rate of dental disease is extremely high.

The Dental Clinic at the White Earth Health Center has-state-of-the-art treatment units: nine at the main health center, and two at each outlying field clinic. Demand for dental services is increasing, and the main clinic recently recorded nearly 7,000 annual dental visits. The two field clinics, although stocked with excellent equipment, have been closed since 2007 due to a shortage of dentists. Consequently there is a large backlog of uncompleted care. For example: More than 400 endodontic procedures recorded as “initiated ” have yet to be completed. Attempting to serve the basic emergent and urgent needs of the patients consumes the majority of the existing staff’s clinical time. In addition, these demands have severely restricted the ability of the clinic to provide necessary outreach service to Head Start and school-based programs located on the reservation.

The White Earth Dental Clinic has had dentists from other states volunteer through the ADA Dentist Volunteer Program. But as of this writing there is no record of MDA dentists volunteering. Therefore, this is a wonderful opportunity for MDA membership to get involved and volunteer in our own state to help make a significant difference for a population with tremendous dental needs. The most urgent needs are for operative dentistry, basic endodontics, and oral surgery. For those interested in pursuing this opportunity, please contact the ADA for any assistance with housing or travel.

The White Earth Reservation is in the heart of Minnesota lake country. A schedule can be arranged that would allow adequate time for enjoying the numerous opportunities available in the area. The vacation activities available include such things as fishing, boating, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, hunting, photography, hiking, biking, orsimply relaxing and enjoying the nation’s vacationland. Have you ever considered a “working vacation”? A couple of weeks at the White Earth Health Center can provide a unique opportunity, regardless of the season.

Dr. Scott Trapp is the Chief Dental Officer at the White Earth Health Center, and can help you through the process of obtaining privileges through the Indian Health Service. The credentialing process is simple, and is in place in order for the federal government to extend malpractice protection to volunteers free of charge through the Federal Torts Claims Act.

Members interested in considering this opportunity should contact Dr. Trapp directly at


*Dr. Rose is a general dentist in private practice in Pillager, Minnesota. He is a member of the Community Service Committee of the Minnesota Dental Association. E-mail is