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ADA CDHC program helps Chicago nonprofit get kids access to care

September 17, 2018

By Michelle Manchir

3-year comparative impact on oral health status of children from 3 schools graph
For almost a decade, Dr. Alejandra Valencia has been working to build a system that helps ensure underserved children in targeted Chicago ZIP codes have access to dental care and education.

“We analyze data and then develop programs to help address the disparities that we see,” said Dr. Valencia, who has been director at the Oral Health Forum in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood for four years.

For part of that time, the ADA-developed and trademarked Community Dental Health Coordinator, or CDHC, program has helped her do this. The Oral Health Forum is helping students in the program master essential case management skills that can help patients access dental care.

Two years ago, the Oral Health Forum partnered with the CDHC programs at Prairie State College and Malcolm X College with funds from the Health Resources & Services Administration to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The CDHC program is a curriculum that emphasizes community-based prevention, care coordination and patient navigation to connect underserved patients with a dental home.

At the Oral Health Forum, CDHCs-in-training complete a required community internship as part of the program, while training and working as case managers, said Dr. Valencia. Meanwhile, CDHC students at two other Illinois colleges, Southern Illinois University and Parkland College, complete a webinar about the major tenets of case management from the Oral Health Forum as part of the Illinois health department grant.

The Oral Health Forum has used case management as a tool for five years, after a community assessment in two Chicago ZIP codes determined something needed to be done to help those underserved families find dental homes, said Dr. Valencia.

With funding from several local and national foundations, the Oral Health Forum case management model has been an “extremely successful” intervention, Dr. Valencia said.

“Case management is helping people express what type of health care their family needs as well as understand how they can access those services,” said Dr. Valencia.

Oral Health Forum case managers and the CDHC students completing their internships spend time talking with families about what kind of care is needed to address their needs and how to make appointments and follow up with additional care or health questions. Case managers make outreach calls to families in documented areas of high oral health need, often following up with families of kids who have received preventive services and screenings from the Chicago Department of Public Health’s School-Based Oral Health Program.

“It’s about developing a personal relationship and building trust,” said Dr. Valencia. “It is with this effort that children who have urgent dental needs can get connected with a dentist in an office within their community who can address those needs.”

Connecting patients to care is one of the central tenets of the ADA CDHC program. Part of the ADA’s Action for Dental Health Initiative, CDHCs arrange transportation programs between community centers and dental clinics, teach oral health education and help patients understand treatment plans and dental care needs. CDHCs are currently working in 21 states and educational programs to become a CDHC are available in every state.

“CDHCs empower patients to understand the care that they need and we help them feel confident to seek that care and be connected to that care,” said Dr. Jane Grover, director of the ADA Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention.

Dr. Valencia
Dr. Valencia
So far, more than 30 CDHCs-in-training have completed internships at the Oral Health Forum and many more have completed a course about case management, said Dr. Valencia.

Since the case management intervention began in 2015, the Oral Health Forum has found that urgent dental needs among children in three Chicago Public Schools in the program have fallen from 26 percent in 2014-15 school year to 14 percent in the 2016-17 school year, said Dr. Valencia. “We have been able to document everything,” she said. “We are clearly making progress.”

Furthermore, Dr. Valencia believes the case management model could be easily adapted into private dental offices and community clinics across the country “which is why the CDHC program is so beneficial to helping families remain connected to regular oral health care.”

For more information about Oral Health Forum, visit

For more information about the CDHC program and where it is offered, visit