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CDHC pilot program examined in ADA statement

The ADA’s Community Dental Health Coordinator pilot project has resulted in the deployment of 18 newly trained dental personnel providing much-needed care in remote rural communities, inner cities and American Indian lands across the U.S.

Image: Picture of barriers paper cover

And that’s only the beginning. With support from state governments, the higher education community, and the charitable and private sectors, the Association says there’s no telling the extent to which CDHCs could improve the oral health of Americans who lack adequate access to regular dental care.

The ADA released a comprehensive overview of its Community Dental Health Coordinator pilot program today as the fourth in a series of papers that examine the multiple barriers that impede millions of Americans from attaining good oral health. The paper is called Breaking Down Barriers to Oral Health for All Americans: The Community Dental Health Coordinator.

“The Community Dental Health Coordinator model is designed to address barriers to oral health that go beyond poverty,” said ADA President Robert A. Faiella.

The ADA piloted the CDHC program in 2009 to help address the many reasons why people do not have adequate access. Working in partnership with dental schools; community colleges; and federal, state and local safety net facilities, the program would educate and train dental personnel who are drawn from the communities in which they work. The concept centered on the idea that CDHCs would have knowledge of the barriers to care that patients in their communities face and would be effective in helping those patients navigate the health system.

“People in inner cities, remote rural areas and Native American lands also face obstacles posed by education, language, culture, geography and other factors,” said Dr. Faiella. “Community Dental Health Coordinators come from these same communities. They understand the problems and are uniquely equipped to provide solutions.”

The CDHC is primarily based on the public health model of the community health worker, which has been extraordinarily successful in outreach, education and disease management. CDHCs bring the same focus to meeting people’s oral health needs, concentrating on disease prevention, patient education, and helping people secure and keep appointments with dentists. As of this month, the CDHC pilot project has graduated 18 students who are now working in underserved areas, and 16 more are scheduled to complete the program this fall.

The ADA paper takes a closer look at the history and status of the CDHC pilot project, including:

  • its underlying concept;
  • the development of a comprehensive curriculum;
  • recruiting students;
  • the roles of the participating organizations and institutions in the education and training process;
  • how the project is being evaluated;
  • the results reportable at this stage in the project.

In a statement issued today, the ADA said that it “has devoted significant financial and human resources to making the CDHC a reality, because it believes in the model and the health care philosophy it embodies.”

In addition, the Association and state dental societies are working to encourage state governments, the higher education community, and the charitable and private sectors to begin funding and operating CDHC programs. In 2011, New Mexico became the first state to formally authorize the CDHC through its dental practice act, and the state of Oregon approved the CDHC in pilot form. By following suit, states could improve the oral health of people who currently lack adequate access to dental care and the knowledge that empowers them to take charge of their own oral health.

The Community Dental Health Coordinator is one part of a series of ADA papers examining oral health disparities and how to resolve them. Previous papers (posted at ADA.org/breakingdownbarriers.aspx) have examined the Role of Finance, the Role of Workforce and Repairing the Tattered Safety Net.

Future papers will address such topics as disease prevention, oral health education and why patients do or do not utilize available services. A PDF of Breaking Down Barriers to Oral Health for All Americans: The Community Dental Health Coordinator is available at ADA.org.