Community Dental Health Coordinator

Discover how CDHCs are addressing the oral health care needs of people living in underserved communities.

Breaking down barriers to better oral health

For many people, gaining access to dental care isn’t simply a matter of finding the nearest dentist. Some may face language and cultural issues that keep them from connecting with dental providers. Others may lack the insurance coverage, transportation or child care that would make it easier for them to visit the dentist.

The ADA has developed an online training program for dental professionals who want to help people overcome these potential barriers. Community Dental Health Coordinators (CDHCs) play a meaningful role in improving the oral health of individuals and families in areas where many aren’t receiving the care they need.

Learn more about CDHCs

How did the CDCH role take shape?

In 2004, the ADA set up a task force focused on meeting the needs of dentally underserved people in rural, urban and Native American communities.

Two years later, we established the Community Dental Health Coordinator Pilot Program as one of several strategies to break down the barriers that prevent people from receiving regular dental care and enjoying optimal oral health. The new program focused on community-based prevention, care coordination and patient navigation to link people with dental health resources near them.

Data from the pilot program showed that when CDHCs worked closely with people and families to find appropriate care, oral health outcomes improved significantly.

How can I train to become a CDHC?

There are many educational sites across the country that offer the CDHC curriculum through continuing education programs or as part of existing programs in dental hygiene and dental assisting.

CDHCs develop skills that empower them to work from a foundation of cultural competence. As professionals working (and often living) in underserved areas, they operate from an understanding of the language, the culture and the barriers to oral health services that community members might face. In many cases, CDHCs already have relationships with the people they serve, giving them a unique sense of what individuals and families need.

CDHCs are trained to:

  • Work under a dentist's supervision
  • Operate within the structure of state dental practice acts
  • Address social, environmental and health literacy issues
  • Provide effective dental health education
  • Help people develop goals to improve their oral health
  • Coordinate care in accordance with a dentist's instructions
  • Help patients navigate the complexities of the health care system
  • Provide appropriate clinical services, including screenings, fluoride treatments and radiographs

The CDHC curriculum was developed by experts convened by the ADA. Their extensive expertise in education, public health, social work and dentistry formed the foundation for a curriculum that builds core competencies. The curriculum is designed for online delivery, accompanied by a series of in-person or virtual sessions for student skill development and evaluation. CDHC training builds skills in:

  • Advocacy and outreach
  • Communication and cultural competence
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Addressing legal and ethical questions
  • Financial issues and payment for dental care

Each student must complete a CDHC internship project in order to graduate. This project is usually carried out towards the end of the training period, but can vary depending by CDHC training site. This gives students the chance to use the skills they’ve acquired in a clinical or non-clinical setting, gaining confidence as they go. Past projects have taken place at dental clinics, health fairs, senior homes and elementary schools. Others have focused on patient groups such as diabetics, pregnant women and elderly adults.

Staff from the ADA Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention (ADA CAAP) stay in contact with course instructors and students throughout the internship project.. They help provide support and ideas for the student’s projects via online webinars. These webinar presentations are scheduled months in advance before the projects begin to ensure that students are confident in carrying out their internship projects.