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Action for Dental Health

New Mexico College Launches CDHC Training Program

September 16, 2014

A community college in New Mexico is offering a new certificate program that aims to improve access to dental care by training community health workers to provide patient coordination in the most underserved communities.

Central New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque is currently accepting students for the Community Dental Health Coordinator (CDHC) program, initiated by the American Dental Association (ADA). The first entering class will accept only registered dental hygienists and certified dental assistants. 

The college is accepting online applications through Oct. 17.

CDHCs play a vital role in improving access to dental care in underserved communities by providing dental health 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. 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.

“This is truly exciting. Central New Mexico is the first college to offer a CDHC program since the ADA-sponsored pilot program was completed,” said ADA President Dr. Charles Norman. “CDHCs are an integral part of a complex set of solutions needed to address the nation’s dental health crisis.”

CDHC students will learn interviewing skills, dental health teaching and learning skills, screening and classification, as well as palliative care skills before entering internships with dentists in New Mexico communities.    

The success of community health workers in managing and improving the health of people in underserved communities is well documented. They can link health care provider, social and community agencies and underserved populations in ways that promote health behaviors, prevent disease and help people get health care when they need it.

The ADA’s CDHC model seeks to build on the community health worker’s proven success by combining existing community health worker models with new components addressing oral health. The design of this position embodies organized dentistry’s belief that a public health system based on surgical intervention for a disease that could have been prevented is inherently flawed. 

So rather than focusing on surgical interventions, CDHCs provide the oral health education, prevention and patient navigation skills that are the nation’s best hope of stemming the tide of untreated dental disease.

“We are proud that New Mexico was the first state to have the CDHC established in law, and excited to be the first to roll out a permanent educational program,” stated Mark Moores, New Mexico Dental Association Executive Director.  “We look forward to the positive impact that the CDHC will have on the oral health of New Mexicans.”  

The ADA pilot has graduated 34 CDHCs currently practicing in eight states. Several CDHCs have taken visiting assignments to demonstrate the value of this innovative dental worker for government and public health officials in additional states. 

A notable example is CDHC Lori Wood, who worked at the Esperanza Health Clinic in Silver City, N.M., last year.  Ms. Wood’s New Mexico “sabbatical” allowed officials from Central New Mexico and other colleges to experience not only the CDHC’s value to the community, but also how the position provides career opportunities in health care.