Students and Faculty Treat Patients from the Lakota Tribe on Annual Dental Mission

RSDM students treated Native American patients at this South Dakota clinic.

In the Black Hills of South Dakota, oral health care for Native Americans is limited.

On an RSDM dental mission to an Indian Health Services (IHS) clinic last month, students and faculty cared for members of the Lakota tribe and found that many patients had missing teeth because restorations weren't affordable.

“People don’t have money for dentures and replacements,’’ said Dr. Robert Shekitka, an RSDM faculty member who led the trip. “They have fillings and extractions but not much else. We made dentures for them.’’ The team of seven students and two faculty treated about 50 patients and made 20 sets of dentures, said Shekitka.

During the annual mission, RSDM students fill in for IHS staff dentists, who take a week-long vacation in August. Before the trip, they learn about Native American culture and customs so they can have a better understanding of patients.

For the past several years, they have gone to an IHS clinic in Arizona, where they treated patients from the Navajo tribe. But this year they travelled to South Dakota, where many legendary figures from American history were based, including impresario Buffalo Bill and Red Cloud, a famed Lakota warrior leader who is known as the most photographed Native American of the 19th century. "It's the stuff you learned about as a kid,'' said Shekitka.