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Profile of a CDHC: Lori Wood

March 14, 2014

If there's one thing that Lori Wood has learned as a Community Dental Health Coordinator (CDHC), it is that regardless of location, many people need to better understand the importance of dental health and how to take care of themselves and their families.

CDHCs work in inner cities, remote rural areas and Native American lands. Most grew up in these communities, allowing them to better understand the problems that affect access to dental care.

Ms. Wood's permanent location is Honesdale, Pa., where she works at a Federally Qualified Health Center. Last summer, she took a temporary assignment in Silver City, New Mexico, where she educated more than 1,400 patients about taking care of their dental health, at senior centers, libraries and other public venues.

"You look at all the people who are in need in your area, and then when you go somewhere else you realize they have the similar barriers to accessing dental care," she said.

The greatest barriers to care in Silver City – which has a population of about 10,000 people and is geographically isolated in the southwestern part of the state – are education and transportation.

"Education is paramount to improving dental health in underserved communities like Silver City," Ms. Wood said. "One of the other barriers I encountered where I lived in New Mexico was transportation. There was a Walmart and a grocery store, but everything else was far away and there was no public transportation."

Ms. Wood spent much of her time going out into the community and talking about the importance of prioritizing dental health, especially for children and those with diabetes.

One story in particular illustrates the effect she had on the New Mexican community.

Ms. Wood was teaching a class of diabetics at Hidalgo Medical Services about the risks associated with the disease if it remains uncontrolled.

"The following week I saw one of the women from class in the dental clinic," said Ms. Wood. "She told me that she hadn't been to the dentist in a long time, but after she heard me speak at the healthy living class, she made an appointment to see the dentist and have a dental check-up."

One of the advantages to using CDHCs to address issues surrounding access to dental care is that they can effectively communicate with communities, she said.

"Especially in the case of children, I tried to make it fun because kids sometimes are scared of going to a dentist," Ms. Wood said. "They knew that I was somebody in the dental field, and that it was fun talking to me and playing with a puppet, so maybe it could be fun going to the dentist, too."

When her sabbatical ended in August, Ms. Wood said it was evident that she had a positive effect on the community.

"There was a young man who had been to the emergency room five times for a toothache," she said. "He didn't know any better, he just knew he was in pain."

After his fifth hospitalization, he finally decided to see a dentist.

"I told him that I could go with him to his appointment and even set it up for him," Ms. Wood said. "I think people in underserved communities feel comfortable talking with a CDHC, who in turn can discover what is keeping them from going to see a dentist."