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Architecture for Tribal Communities:
The Impact of a Dental Clinic Expansion

Posted April 26th, 2019 by HKP Architects
Swinomish Dental Clinic Team

Photo credit Theresa Trebon, Swinomish Tribal Archive

HKP Architects is honored to have the opportunity to provide architectural services to our local tribal communities. The majority of such work is with the Swinomish In­dian Tribal Com­mu­nity, plan­ning their long-range fa­cil­i­ties cap­i­tal vi­sions and de­vel­op­ing so­cial ser­vices pro­jects. The most recent work with this community is completing the ex­pan­sion of their ex­ist­ing den­tal clinic.

While all of our tribal projects bring us inspiration and a sense of pride, this particular project stands out. As part of the clin­ics’ ex­pan­sion, the tribe has also been ap­proved to train Den­tal Health Aide Ther­a­pists (DHATs) and is in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Sk­agit Val­ley Col­lege to pro­vide the clin­i­cal train­ing site which would be housed in this ex­pan­sion. This DHAT Train­ing pro­gram will be the first of its kind in the lower 48 states.

To fully understand the impact that this dental clinic expansion and the subsequent ability to now train DHATs, let’s explain what the DHAT program is and why the expansion of this program is vital for tribal healthcare. DHATs are dental health aide therapists who can perform basic dental procedures, including restorations, after they complete 2 years of training.

Dental Op Room in the Swinomish Dental Clinic Expansion

Photo credit:  HKP Architects

43% of indigenous children in the United States aged 2 to 5 years have untreated tooth decay according to a 2014 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Many indigenous people cannot afford dental care on their own, and often dentists refuse patients whose only form of payment is Medicaid. DHATs also are usually members of the communities they serve so they are able to provide culturally competent dental care.

The first US DHAT program began in Alaska. The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium organized licensure of high school graduates with 2 years of training in dentistry to do basic procedures, including basic restorations and extractions. A Den­tal Health Aide Ther­a­pist operates under general supervision, meaning that a dentist has authorized the procedures which are carried out in accordance with the orders given to that specific DHAT.

Image of the Swinomish Dental Clinic Expansion Exterior

Photo credit:  HKP Architects

The successful completion of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Dental Clinic Expansion means that not only the expansion of dental services provided to the community but also the expansion of the DHAT program itself, increasing the reach of dental services for other communities. This project reinforces why our tribal work is so meaningful to us. Ser­vice to our lo­cal tribal com­mu­ni­ties has been part of HKP Architect’s rich his­tory and is our cur­rent vi­sion for com­mu­nity ser­vice.

Learn more about this and our other tribal projects: