Oregon Dental Therapist Becomes Pillar of Her Community
Naomi Petrie is proud to work for her Tribe. Since July 2017, Naomi has worked for the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umqua, and Siuslaw Indians as a dental therapist.
Naomi was part of the first wave of dental therapy students from the Pacific Northwest to study under the Alaska Dental Therapy Education Program. She spent her first year in a classroom in Anchorage learning the didactic aspect of oral health. Her second year, Naomi lived in Bethel, a hub community on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. During that year, she worked in the clinic every day and traveled to nearby villages twice. “We spent our time in the villages focusing on the children and getting them familiar with us as dental providers. I mostly did sealants,” Naomi says. She credits her time in these communities with inspiring her to focus on her own Tribe’s youth as a dental therapist.
Naomi long wanted to serve her Tribe through health care. She grew up on the Tribe’s land and always participated in community activities. The local community college has a nursing program, and Naomi considered becoming a nurse. However, the Tribe’s health director recommended she look into Alaska’s dental therapy education program. After doing some research, Naomi decided that this was the best way she could serve her people.
When Naomi began working for her Tribe, her head dentist, Dr. Sarah Rogers, oversaw her work directly for a period of time. This preceptorship time is designed to ensure both Naomi and Dr. Rogers were comfortable with the dental therapist’s scope of practice. Naomi finished her preceptorship in October 2018 and is now treating members of the community under general supervision.
Naomi sees her own patients now, and she collaborates with the Tribe’s Head Start program to ensure the youth have sealants and the early oral health care they need. Naomi loves placing sealants, because it is usually the first oral health care procedure the children see and she gets to form a bond with them.”One bad experience in a dentist’s chair can stay with someone for life. I want to lower their anxiety and make them comfortable,” she says.
The Tribe is not resting on its laurels. Another dental therapist is in her preceptorship, and the dental clinic is exploring mobile unit options to bring services to community members where they are. The dentist is able to spend more time with patients and do more complex procedures now that Naomi is taking the patients with the easiest need.
In reflecting on her career path, Naomi says, “I want to set a good example for the children in my community. I have had kids come up to me and tell me they want to be a dental therapist, and that makes it all worth it.”