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CDHC program is nearly complete

October 21, 2013

By Stacie Crozier, ADA News staff

CDHC ambassador: Lori Wood, center, a Community Dental Health Coordinator in Honesdale, Pa., conducts a dental health education program for children at the Bayard Public Library while on a sabbatical in New Mexico.
With a decade of experience as a dental assistant and 13 years as a licensed dental hygienist, Lori Wood had already honed many of the clinical skills needed to be a Community Dental Health Coordinator. What drew her to the training program was the chance to gain experience in helping her patients outside the dental chair. (See related story.)

“For years, patients had shared their concerns with me about issues like not having transportation to get to the dentist or not understanding why preventive care was so important for their overall health,” Ms. Wood said. “As a CDHC, I am able to go out into my community and talk to people one-on-one, provide oral health education and help them navigate getting comprehensive care at the community health center.”

Ms. Wood was a participant in the third cohort of the ADA's Community Dental Health Coordinator pilot project, which will be completed at the end of the year. To date, 34 CDHCs have completed the training program and are employed in eight states, and New Mexico and Vermont have invited CDHCs to serve sabbaticals in their states. Several colleges and universities nationwide have expressed an interest in offering CDHC training in the future. The pilot project, funded by the ADA House of Delegates as well as an in-kind donation of equipment by Henry Schein Inc. and a contribution by the ADA Foundation, was completed within budget.

The ADA recently completed 46 case studies to evaluate the program. More than 11,000 patients have been served by CDHCs, generating $1.85 million in revenues at the clinics that employ them. The evaluation also determined that the CDHC model is sustainable in certain clinical settings and that CDHCs generate revenue through outreach activities.

“The CDHC has proved to be not only effective but extremely beneficial in our test sites,” said Dr. W. Ken Rich, past ADA 6th District trustee from Dry Ridge, Ky. “The CDHC's role as a financially viable form of community outreach, as an educator and patient navigator have improved access to care significantly in areas of underutilization. The next step is to experience a more widespread utilization of this model as a demonstrated answer to the access problem.”

In the northeastern Pennsylvania town of Honesdale, Ms. Wood serves patients from the town of less than 5,000 as well as many residents in the rural areas surrounding it.

Although she completed her CDHC clinical training 150 miles south of Honesdale at the program's urban training site at Temple University in Philadelphia, her focus is on providing outreach services and education at schools, head starts, day care centers, health fairs, senior centers and other sites near Honesdale.

Ms. Wood is also a certified public health dental hygiene practitioner in Pennsylvania, which allows her to provide dental hygiene services at federally qualified health centers as well as a variety of other settings. Her unique skills and training allow her to provide mobile dental hygiene services as well as education outreach programs in the community.

“I love working as a CDHC, because it allows me to wrap the dental skills I had plus the social work skills I learned into my every-day work,” said Ms. Wood.

Her outreach education services are in demand, she said, and the sites and groups who host her programs say that oral health information is hard for people in the community to find. She said her employer understands and supports the need to have a flexible schedule to accommodate outreach programs because many of the people she talks to end up seeking medical and dental services from them.

Ms. Wood's service as a CDHC also earned her a sabbatical in New Mexico this summer, where she served as the Land of Enchantment's first Community Dental Health Coordinator and a good will ambassador for the program. From May through August, she educated more than 1,400 patients with programs at diabetes classes, senior centers, local libraries, summer lunch programs and even the community pool.

“I am New Mexico's first CDHC and my license is good through 2015, so I hope to return,” she said.

CDHCs, she added, act as a link between the community and the health center they work for and as an advocate for those who may have experienced problems accessing dental care services.

“When you're one-on-one with a patient who is in the dental chair, they might be nervous or afraid to be honest with you about something that might be bothering them,” she said. “But when you are out in the community, people are often more open about talking about fear or their avoidance of seeking dental care. Being in a different setting helps enhance open communication and allows me to help people identify and help overcome barriers to care.”

After hosting a talk at a diabetes support group meeting on the importance oral health care, she said, she was gratified that a lady at the meeting was able to talk to her about her extreme fear of seeing a dentist and eventually made a much needed appointment.

“She said her diabetes wasn't under control, and she didn't realize that her fear of seeing a dentist and resulting oral health problems could be one of the reasons,” said Ms. Wood.

Several trained CDHCs have used their skills and training to expand into other roles in their communities.

Calvin Hoops is the practice administrator for the Esperanza Health Center Dental Clinic, a bilingual community health center that services a predominantly Hispanic population in North Philadelphia. Angela Black is the services-at-large outreach coordinator for the Chickasaw Nation, helping tribal members nationwide navigate the system for health care services in all disciplines—medical, optical, dental, behavioral—and even how to use health spending accounts and prescription mail order programs.

For more details on the CDHC program, visit