Wampanoag Tribe: Oral Health Relief Effort

Connections between Harvard University and the Wampanoag Tribe date back to the 1640’s. More recently, Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) has worked with the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) to provide better access to oral and systemic health care for the tribe, and other underserved community members on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, MA. Faculty and students from HSDM and Northeastern University’s Bouve School of Allied Health volunteer one day each month, to provide care at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital (MVH) facilities. MVH provides much of the dental supplies, and each session is staffed by at least one faculty dentist and up to four students. Students assist with all dental procedures, including extractions, endo, prophy, cleaning, composite/amalgam restorations, crown preparation, and dentures. Since 2014, the HSDM team has completed approximately $45,000 worth of clinical treatment. The team is also exploring the option of expanding the program to a second clinical site on tribal land with portable equipment, that would allow students to do treatment.

The HSDM team and the tribe work together to improve access to care and develop the possibility of a sustainable, comprehensive, and family-centered oral health care system for the native population. Students and faculty participate in several Wampanoag pow-wows and tribal meetings to learn more about the community and culture, as well as assessing the range of oral health needs through screenings. Beyond collecting 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.

Support for the program is provided by:

  • Robert Wood Johnson Pipeline Grant
  • Massachusetts Dental Society Foundation Grant
  • Harvard COOP Public Service Grant

Student Reflections on Volunteering at the Wampanoag Clinic

"...Experiences treating patients that come from a different background makes volunteering with the Wampanoag Outreach Program such a great learning experience. To be able to effectively communicate and connect with people in order to provide optimal dental care is an important skill to develop, and I believe volunteering with the Wampanoag Outreach Program will help me develop these useful skills while preserving a unique treasured culture." –Daniel Shen, DMD 2021