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Action for Dental Health

New Mexico CDHC Graduates Reflect on Experiences

August 24, 2015

Central New Mexico Community College

As Central New Mexico Community College’s (CNM) inaugural class of Community Dental Health Coordinators (CDHC) finish their community internships – the final piece of CDHC training – three students recently discussed the impact they had on they underserved communities they served, and where they’re headed next.

CDHCs work in inner cities, remote rural areas and Native American lands to improve access to dental care by education and basic preventive services, and by helping patients navigate the public health system to receive care from dentists. They help people bridge such barriers as poverty, geography, language, culture, and a lack of understanding of oral hygiene.

“When this program opened up, I initially had no idea what it was,” said Rebecca Layne, one of the graduating CDHC students. “Through inspiring leadership at CNM, I decided to participate in the CDHC program, because I thought it would be amazing to help so many people who need dental care.”

Ms. Layne recently completed an internship in Los Lunas, a village of 25,000 people just south of Albuquerque. After graduating in December, she plans to move with her family to Colorado, where she hopes to use her CDHC skills to help people who face barriers to receiving dental care.

“Going out into the community and making presentations about oral health helped me to realize there is much more that must be done to educate people about good oral hygiene and the importance of disease prevention,” she said. “I know that this is the right path for me.”

CNM is the first higher education institution to implement a CDHC curriculum following the completion of the ADA’s pilot program in Rio Salado College in Tempe, Ariz., in 2012. CNM’s classes started last fall, and graduation is expected to take place in December. Mattia College in Florida and Rio Salado College also are now offering the course.

Renee Edwards, a CNM student and certified dental assistant who finished her internship at her current worksite, University of New Mexico (UNM) Dental Services, plans to move this fall to Roswell, where she will lead community outreach efforts for a dentist in that community.

“This is absolutely the best job you could have,” said Ms. Edwards. “I’m confident that the training I received through the CDHC program has prepared me to help people in Roswell receive the dental care that they need.”

Whitney Compton spent her internship in South Valley, just outside Albuquerque, where she performed dental screenings and educated people about the importance of good oral hygiene and regularly visiting the dentist. Many of her patients were homeless and living in shelters.

“I knew that the need was out there, but I guess I really didn’t know how many people struggled on a daily basis,” she said. “For me, going into this program, I thought that I was going out and getting people into the dental office. I learned that it was a lot harder than I expected, because you have to build a relationship with people before they trust you.”

Ms. Compton said that she plans to continue working at First Choice Community Healthcare, a federally qualified health center (FQHC) that has nine locations in three counties, this fall. She hopes there will be an opportunity for her to continue her community outreach activities.

“Now that the program is wrapping up, it feels so much more rewarding because I’ve overcome so many obstacles in getting people to trust me,” she said. “Now, I’m seeing many people approach me and ask questions about oral health and how they can make an appointment to see a dentist. That, to me, is very rewarding.”