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CDHC graduates make a difference working in their communities

A normal day for Angela Black, the Community Dental Health Coordinator at the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center in Ada, Okla., might include seeing patients at the center’s 33-chair dental clinic; coordinating oral health prevention services and education; working on plans to initiate a children’s screening and sealant program at the Chickasaw Children’s Village residential school; or visiting one of 11 senior sites throughout the Nation’s 7,650 square-mile territory in south central Oklahoma.

IMAGE: Ms. Black
Ms. Black

In Philadelphia, another CDHC, Tiffany Collins, splits her time between seeing patients at the Quality Community Health Care Inc. dental clinic and two of the health center’s satellite sites, where she provides screening, triage, referral and dental education. She works with both adults and children in the city to help them utilize their insurance coverage and match them with the closest clinic site and/or specialists to meet their needs.

Ms. Black and Ms. Collins were among eight participants in the second cohort of the ADA’s CDHC pilot program who graduated and moved into the workforce at the end of 2011. Participants in the program were trained to serve their respective communities in a variety of settings, including three who are working in urban settings, three in rural areas and two in American Indian territories.

“This has been an amazing experience,” said Ms. Black. “I didn’t know I could grow so much as a person. I was a dental assistant for more than 10 years, but participating in the CDHC program and now working for the Chickasaw Nation for eight years has helped me learn more about myself and more about dentistry. It’s given me even more experience in working with educators, patients and leaders in the Nation. My patients might think my work has an impact on them, but they also have an impact on me.”

Ms. Collins said her role as a CDHC has given her the opportunity to make a difference in her community by establishing personal relationships with patients.

IMAGE: Ms. Collins
Ms. Collins

“I’ve come to realize that patients are a little more comfortable with me because I help them navigate the system,” said Ms. Collins. “They love it when I call them to follow up. I try to keep up with their treatment plans. I help them do the legwork and get them back in for the care they need.”

Throughout the training process, representatives from the ADA conduct site visits and evaluation meetings to ensure that training standards are met and that the CDHC model is meeting its stated objectives.

The ADA works with clinics where CDHCs are employed to gather data to conduct a thorough evaluation of the CDHC after graduation and is evaluating the pilot training program to determine how valuable CDHCs can be in a variety of practice settings.

Both CDHCs say that they have received a tremendous amount of support from the program faculty, their employers and their families.

“I worked in a dental office since before my son (8-year-old Nasir) was born,” Ms. Collins said. “This is a promotion for me. It feels really good to have people look at you in a different way—with more respect for your role in the community.”

“My family has been so supportive through the whole process,” Ms. Black said. “My children (Tessa, age 14; Kellyn, age 12; and Hunter, age 6) and I did our homework together and my husband Brad was constantly encouraging me. The CDHC program faculty was 100 percent behind us and it was a life-changing experience for me.”

The ADA’s CDHC pilot project was designed to create a new dental team member who works under the supervision of a dentist. Participants are trained to improve the oral health of people who, for economic, geographic or cultural reasons, lack access to regular dental care. In their initial phase of training, participants complete 12 months of online coursework administered by Rio Salado College in Tempe. Upon successfully completing the didactic portion of their training, the participants begin six-month internships.

Participants are affiliated with three sites: Temple University’s Kornberg School of Dentistry; the University of Oklahoma; and A.T. Still University Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health. The third and final cohort of participants in the pilot program is now in its training phase.