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Action for Dental Health

Profile of a CDHC: Jessika Rios

March 23, 2015 


Jessika Rios is one of seven Central New Mexico Community College students enrolled in a program teaching them to help people in underserved communities navigate the barriers that keep them from getting regular dental care.

Central New Mexico is the first college to offer the Community Dental Health Coordinator (CDHC) program since pilot program sponsored by the American Dental Association ended in 2012.

CDHCs play a vital role in improving access to dental care in underserved communities by providing dental health education and by helping patients navigate the public health system to receive care from dentists. They work in inner cities, remote rural areas and Native American lands. Most grew up in these communities, allowing them to better understand the unique barriers and problems that affect access to dental care

“We are proud that New Mexico was the first state to have the CDHC established in law, and excited that Central New Mexico is the first community college in the nation to enroll new students,” said Mark Moores, executive director of the New Mexico Dental Association. “We know this proven addition to the dental team will help many New Mexicans who have lacked adequate access to care.”

Ms. Rios, who has been a certified dental assistant since 2009, became interested in connecting needy people with dentists after volunteering at the New Mexico Dental Association’s fourth Mission of Mercy, which was held in October 2014 at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, just outside Albuquerque. Missions of Mercy are one- and two-day events at which dentists and other volunteers from across the state converge to treat people from underserved communities.

“It was a really great experience for me because it really opened my eyes to the type of need that exists in New Mexico,” she said. “I thought this was an opportunity for me to be more active in the community and help people in need.”

CDHC students 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.

Beginning in May, Ms. Rios and her classmates will fan out to several underserved communities, where they will work as CDHCs during a 12-week internship. Ms. Rios’ internship is in Edgewood, a town of less than 4,000 people in Santa Fe County, about 25 miles east of Albuquerque.

Although she grew up in Albuquerque, Ms. Rios spent childhood summers with her grandparents in the nearby town of Las Nuetras, which has only a couple hundred residents. There, she helped her relatives on the farm and spent time riding horses. Those experiences, she said, helped shape her to better connect with people from small, rural communities, such as Edgewood.

“I’m very excited because I view this as an opportunity to help educate people who aren’t aware of the importance of good oral health,” she said.

To learn more about the Community Dental Health Coordinator program, visit the ADA website or watch this video.