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Bring dental health education and disease prevention into communities

• Ensure more Americans have access to drinking water with fluoride. Endorsed by U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD (PDF) as “one of the most effective choices communities can make to prevent health problems while actually improving the oral health of their citizens,” community water fluoridation programs benefit everyone, especially those without access to regular dental care. For most cities, every $1 invested in water fluoridation yields $38 savings in dental treatment costs. That’s why the ADA and state dental associations are working with state and local governments to extend the proven health benefits of community water fluoridation to the greatest possible number of people.

• Increase the number of Community Dental Health Coordinators (CDHCs). CDHCs are community health workers with dental skills focusing on education and prevention. They forge strong relationships with people in underserved communities with disproportionately high rates of dental disease. CDHCs teach people about the importance of good dental hygiene, provide preventive services such as dental sealants and connect people with dentists who will provide comprehensive treatment. And, since CDHCs are often members of the communities they are serving, they are more apt to understand the unique challenges facing the people they are helping. Read the ADA’s white paper Breaking Down Barriers to Oral Health for All Americans:  The Community Dental Health Coordinator.

• Strengthen collaborations with other health professionals and organizations. Better collaboration among dental and medical professionals can be a means to ensure all Americans understand their dental health is a crucial part of their overall health. The dental health of a pregnant woman or a mother can affect the health of the baby. Maintaining good oral hygiene is one element to maintaining optimal overall health for people living with such conditions as diabetes or HIV. With minimal training, physicians, nurses, educators and others can dramatically increase the number of patients and caregivers who receive basic dental health education. These professionals also can be trained to recognize conditions needing diagnosis and possible treatment by a dentist. As part of its ongoing work to foster these collaborations, the ADA will convene a diverse group of oral health stakeholders at a Prevention Summit in November.