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Action for Dental Health

Case Studies


Collaborating with Tribal Leaders to Improve Dental Health

Native Americans suffer dramatically disproportionate rates of oral disease. Children ages one through five years in Tribal communities have by far the highest decay rates of any group of children in the U.S.

Respecting the sovereignty and self-determination of Tribal nations, the ADA is collaborating with Tribal leaders to help their communities achieve better dental health.  

In many cases, care is available, but not everyone who needs it knows where and how to get it. Community Dental Health Coordinators (CDHCs) can help bridge that gap. Most CDHCs come from the same types of communities and, in many cases, the very communities they serve. Their cultural competence all but eliminates the language and other barriers that might otherwise impede their abilities to help people achieve good oral health.

Community is the heart of the CDHC approach—building relationships and trust, and providing the dental health education that empowers people to successfully manage their own oral health. When treatment is needed, CDHCs help patients make and keep appointments with dentists, even addressing factors like transportation or child care.

The CDHC model has taken hold in 26 communities across eight states, including Chickasaw and Navajo communities in Oklahoma and Arizona, respectively.

Immediate and Proven Community Impact

  • CDHCs can be trained in as little as six months, either as part of a dental hygiene or dental assisting program or as a standalone curriculum.  
  • Through community outreach and patient navigation, CDHCs reduce missed appointment rates dramatically, allowing clinics to provide care to more patients.
  • One CDHC working at a Midwest Indian Health Service clinic provided services valued at more than $105,000 to 240 children at Head Start and daycare centers over a 10-month period.

What CDHCs Say

The CDHC program provides a rewarding career path for students interested in improving oral and overall health care in their communities.

  • “Being in the community, helping promote the health of my Tribal people is incredibly beautiful.” Teresa Molina, CDHC, Pascua Yaqui Tribal Center.
  • “It’s rewarding at the end of each day to know I guided someone and provided hope. Guiding someone to access to care is the first thing people need to start their journey to better health." Angela Black, CDHC and Services at Large Outreach Coordinator, Chickasaw Nation Division of Health.
  • “I plan on educating and getting Native Americans access to care. I have committed to making a difference.” Lisa Flatt, CDHC, Chickasaw Nation Ardmore Health Clinic.

You Can Bring CDHCs to Your Community

The CDHC model has been adapted to numerous community settings, including clinics, schools, HeadStart centers, institutional settings, churches, private dental practices and social service agencies, among others. The ADA and state dental societies are committed to working with Tribal and state governments, the higher education community, and the charitable and private sectors to create new CDHC programs across the United States.

If you’re interested in seeing the impact CDHCs can make in your community, contact Dr. Jane Grover, director, ADA Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention,, 312-440-2751.

CDHCs in Action