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About Community Dental Health Coordinators

Tens of millions of Americans lack adequate access to dental care.  Many of them suffer with untreated disease, and many more are at risk of disease, often because they don’t understand how to take care of their teeth and gums or are not getting routine preventive care.

The American Dental Association believes that education and prevention are the ultimate keys to extending good oral health to those who don’t have it. Responding to the need to dramatically increase oral health literacy and access to preventive and restorative care among underserved populations, the ADA in 2006 launched a pilot project to produce community health workers whose training focuses on oral health. These Community Dental Health Coordinators (CDHCs) work in underserved rural, urban and Native American communities, bringing more people into the oral health system. CDHCs are currently working in 9 states: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Montana. More than 100 students are currently in training, and educational programs to become a CDHC are available in all 50 states.

Additional CDHC Information

The ADA and state dental societies are working with state governments, the higher education community and the charitable and private sectors to create new CDHC programs. We believe that training CDHCs in greater numbers could dramatically improve oral health among people whose circumstances place them at greatest risk for untreated disease.

Connected to the Community

CDHCs are typically recruited from the same types of communities in which they will serve, often the actual communities in which they grew up. This all but eliminates cultural, language and other barriers that might otherwise reduce their effectiveness. Their connections to the communities help establish trust and make them role models.

By focusing on oral health education and disease prevention, the CDHC can empower people in underserved communities to manage their own oral health. When disease requires treatment, the CDHC can link patients with dentists who can provide that treatment, and can help obtain other services—such as child care or transportation—that patients may need in order to receive care.

What Community Dental Health Coordinators are Saying

“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."
— Angela Black, 2011 CDHC graduate, University of Oklahoma-College of Dentistry
“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.”
Calvin Hoops (right), 2011 CDHC graduate, Temple University
“I am working to improve my people’s oral health.”
Teresa Molina, 2012 CDHC graduate, ASDOH

Flexibility in Meeting the Needs of the Underserved

While all CDHCs have basic core competencies, their job responsibilities vary depending on the goals of the clinics and communities they serve, including:

  • Increasing awareness of the importance of oral health and how to become and stay healthy, through community outreach
  • Improving health outcomes by bringing at-risk patients, such as people with diabetes and the elderly, to their clinics
  • Providing preventive services, such as fluoride treatments and sealants, with dentists and dental team members performing restorative and other more complex procedures as appropriate
  • Improving access to care by providing assistance with establishing dental homes for people in the community

The CDHC model has been adapted to numerous community settings, including clinics, schools, HeadStart centers, institutional settings, churches, social service agencies and others.

Moving Forward

With the educational phase of the pilot program completed, the ADA conducted a comprehensive evaluation of both the individual CDHCs' effectiveness and the degree to which they are helping increase access to dental care in their communities. Results from that evaluation are meeting and exceeding expectations.  As part of the Action for Dental Health:  Dentists Making a Difference campaign, the ADA now is working to engage leaders in education and public health, as well as the private practice community in bringing CDHCs to dentally underserved communities nationwide.

"In today's changing U.S. health care environment, community health centers will play a critical role in providing education and preventive care and in expanding access to dental and medical care for more patients. Our support of the ADA's Community Dental Health Coordinator program is an important new chapter in Henry Schein's long-term relationship with the ADA to increase access to oral health care for underserved communities across the United States.
Stanley M. Bergman chairman and CEO of Henry Schein Inc.

Photo by EZ Event Photography

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