In Their Own Words: Community Dental Health Coordinators
Now I’m doing something about it. Through an educational program designed by the American Dental Association, I became a Community Dental Health Coordinator. I’m trained to provide the oral health education that empowers families to take charge of their own health. I deliver preventive services like dental sealants and fluoride treatments to stop dental disease before it starts. And I help people who need additional treatment get and keep appointments with dentists.
Native American people deserve the best dental care. I know the barriers that keep people from accessing quality oral health care. As a CDHC, I’m breaking down those barriers."
When I first heard about the CDHC, I was immediately attracted to how it could continue this mission of serving the community and bringing about its wellness not just by waiting for people to come into our clinic, but by actively seeking to meet with community members outside the dental clinic. Furthermore, I saw that the CDHC program could go beyond what is normally done in the dental clinic through routine dental procedures, addressing key issues like nutrition, smoking cessation, dental anxiety and social barriers that are critical to maintaining good oral health and wellness, issues for which there is often little time in the clinic setting.
In my role as CDHC, I also saw the amazing flexibility to which the CDHC program lends itself. On the one hand, I was able to meet the program’s initial stated model of increasing access to care by bringing patients into the clinic. I formed relationships with a local community organization that had an HIV support group and was able to attend their meetings, educate patients about the importance of oral health for those with HIV, screen for potential issues and even bring some of those clients to our clinic for dental care where they continue to receive regular care.
On the other hand, we realized many members of the community were already Esperanza patients but that many of these patients had not seen the dentist recently. We found the CDHC a perfect resource not only for outreach but also “inreach” to our existing patients as well, especially vulnerable patient populations like children, pregnant women, diabetics and HIV+ patients. We maintained our goals of increasing access to care and improving oral health literacy as I worked as an educator and patient liaison, helping people consider the importance of their oral health and giving people appointments to see our dentist. The CDHC position help our health center make sure that even within its walls, we were addressing barriers to oral health care that limited our ability as a health center to provide truly holistic care on all levels.
I’m grateful for the wealth of oral health knowledge the CDHC program provided me, especially as someone who had only come into dentistry a few years earlier and still had much to learn. It also helped me to think through the various barriers good oral health care that our community faces and seek ways of helping our community overcome those barriers. I think the CDHC has the potential to make a real impact on so many patients’ lives as a critical addition to the dental care team. As I look at my experience, I am convinced that the value of the CDHC comes from the fact that 1) CDHCs are community-oriented and truly care for and seek the wellness of the communities they serve and 2) the CDHCs not only provide important preventive services like fluoride varnish and sealants to people who need them, but also take on a flexible role as an oral health educator and patient advocate in the clinic and in the community."
"I became a CDHC to improve the lives of people throughout my community, by providing care and resources to my Native American patients. As an experienced dental therapist, I applied for the CDHC Program and my knowledge and confidence increased daily with the core curriculum/didactic training with each clinical evaluation. The University of Oklahoma pilot program site provided outstanding informative instructors. They exemplified great detail in their instructing and assisted each CDHC student.
My dental community consisted of 7,640 square miles, where I visited senior sites and the Chickasaw Children’s Village, a residential school within tribal boundaries. When visiting, I provided oral health education, nutritional and outreach information. I performed oral health screenings and networked with Cohort 3 students and nearby clinics to provide appointments to fast track patients.
It was rewarding to see brand new faces each day and my routine patients, as they were coming to “get healthy.” Access to health and dental care is challenging, but getting healthy is a choice. I desired to do more for the citizens I serve and my community.
Thanks to the CDHC training program, I am the Services at Large Outreach Coordinator for The Chickasaw Nation. I educate and promote healthier living through tribal health programs, and assist citizens outside tribal boundaries in rural and urban communities in locating access to care, including health, dental and behavioral health facilities. Access to care is limited to those dependent on the Indian Health Service and facilities east of Oklahoma. Federally qualified health centers are essential to those in need. I have created resource booklets that accompany me to Community Council meetings across the United States. I list FQHC’s, Indian Health Service, and Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA) clinics and facilities.
It’s rewarding at the end of each day to know I guided someone and provided hope. Guiding someone to access to care is the first thing people need to start their journey to better health. I provide hope that there are facilities and other resources available to assist them. It’s important to be healthy and improve quality of life, and have someone like me in their corner.
Helping people locate access to care is uplifting and a life changing experience. At the end of each day I am positively influenced by providing assistance to those who need it most. Becoming a CDHC impacted my life due to the education and personal growth I have accomplished, therefore allowing me to become services at large outreach coordinator."