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CAPIR chair outlines CDHC program success

October 21, 2013

Dr. Hebl: "The true success of this program lies in connecting patients with dental homes."
When the Community Dental Health Coordinator pilot program was launched several years ago, some people were skeptical, some were optimistic, but most of us were willing to “wait and see.”

We knew we weren't going to drill and fill our way out of the access crisis in oral health. The CDHC offered a unique opportunity to take a successful model in medicine, the community health worker, and translate that success to the dental arena.

The purpose of the pilot was to find out if the CDHC could be an efficient, sustainable and effective way to reach the people who currently don't access the oral health care system.

The pilot launched in 2008 with programs located in urban, rural and tribal areas. Now 34 CDHCs are working in eight states and the results have been nothing short of remarkable. These CDHCs have impacted over 11,000 patient lives within their communities and at their respective clinics. They have contributed total revenues of approximately $1.85 million.

The CDHC curriculum was administered through a community college in Arizona and is being readied for sharing with other community colleges interested in promoting this new member of the dental team.

New Mexico is the first state where CDHCs can be licensed and perform to the full scope of their training. Flexibility in the program allows other states to tailor a CDHC program that fits the duties and supervision that already exist in their current dental practice acts.

The patient navigation stories have been impressive, both from the human interest standpoint and the clinical outcomes achieved. (See related story.) A detailed report will be released at the 2013 House of Delegates meeting.

Many people ask, “How does the CDHC get paid?”

The straightforward answer to that is they get paid like everybody else—from productivity. CDHCs generate income by providing direct services and by filling the schedules of the dentists and hygienists in their home clinics. In some states, they can generate revenue from their case management services including educating patients about program eligibility, helping enroll them in insurance programs and assisting with transportation issues. In New Mexico, several managed care plans pay a monthly fee for case management of their most needy clients to oversee patient compliance.

As the CDHC transition phase goes into full swing, perhaps your state would be interested in having this new dental team member navigate patients into care in your office or health center. Your action could help address those critics who claim that there is a “shortage of dentists” and “no one takes care of the underserved.”

If a community college in your area would be interested in offering CDHC training, please let the ADA know.

The true success of this program lies in connecting patients with dental homes. Care that is available, but not accessed or utilized, is unfortunate; it can cost many more dollars when care is delayed and gets more serious.

For many reasons, it is no longer acceptable for dentists to wait for people to avail themselves of our services. As America's leading advocates for oral health, each and every dentist has a responsibility to do his or her part to ensure that we have the best oral health care system for all Americans. CDHCs have proven they can break down many barriers that exist in both the safety net and private practice for the people who have difficulty finding their way to dental care, but who need it the most. Please help us welcome and nurture the CDHC, a valuable new member of the dental team.

Monica Hebl, D.D.S.
Chair, ADA Council on Access, Prevention
and Interprofessional Relations

Editor's note: To inform the ADA Council on Access, Prevention and Interprofessional Relations about a community college's interest in offering CDHC training, contact Dr. Jane Grover, council director, at or at the toll-free number, Ext. 2751.