HSDM and Wampanoag Tribe Collaborate on Oral Health Care

Earlier this fall, HSDM and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) signed a memorandum of understanding to create better access to oral and systemic health care for the tribe and other underserved community members on the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard. The agreement also provides opportunities for dental and other health-related students to practice culturally competent oral public health care through the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital facilities.

As part of HSDM’s global and community oral health initiative, a dedicated team of students and faculty formed the HSDM Committee for Wampanoag Oral Health, led by HSDM faculty member Brian Swann, DDS, MPH. One driver of the Committee’s efforts is to fulfill the commitment laid out in the 1650 Harvard University charter to educate the “Indian youth of this country.” Both Native American members of the Harvard Class of 1665 belonged to the Wampanoag tribe.

Because of financial and geographic barriers, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) has encountered many challenges to accessing dental care. The HSDM team and the tribe are working together to improve access to care and imagine the possibility of a sustainable, comprehensive, and family-centered oral health care system for the native population. The team of students and faculty has participated in several Wampanoag powwows and tribal meetings to learn more about the community and culture, as well as assessing the range of oral health needs through screenings. Beyond tabulating the data for an assessment of the community’s oral and systemic health needs, HSDM is working with the tribe to build bridges of trust and understanding in order to effectively deliver clinical dentistry.

In September, students from HSDM and Northeastern University attended the 9th annual Aquinnah Wampanoag powwow at Gay Head Circle on Martha’s Vineyard. Led by Swann, the students spent the weekend performing oral health screenings for young and elderly attendees and providing information about oral hygiene, the relationship between oral and systemic health, careers in dentistry, and other health-related topics.

The HSDM Wampanoag oral health program is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Dental Pipeline National Learning Institute and is featured in an article on the Foundation’s website.