ADA graduates CDHC graduates

Nov. 4, 2010
University of Oklahoma Students Start CDHC Careers

The University of Oklahoma recently celebrated the completion of coursework by the first group of students in a pilot program created by the American Dental Association (ADA) to improve oral health in underserved communities. The Community Dental Health Coordinator (CDHC) pilot program is modeled on the community health worker, which has proven extremely successful in similar capacities in the medical system.

"The ADA is proud of these students, who we hope will be the vanguard of a new way-we believe a better way-of preventing disease in underserved communities, in large part by empowering people to take charge of their own oral health," said ADA President Raymond F. Gist, DDS. "This type of community-based approach has worked well in other fields of health care. We believe we can improve people's health and lives by preventing dental disease and raising awareness of the importance of good oral hygiene habits."

The five new CDHCs, who participated in a recognition ceremony at the University of Oklahoma on Oct. 23, will bring dental education, prevention services and patient assistance to communities suffering from inadequate access to oral health care and disproportionate oral disease rates. In addition, CDHCs can provide specific clinical services under the supervision of a dentist and in accordance with existing state laws such as dental screenings, fluoride treatments, placement of dental sealants and simple teeth cleanings (scaling for periodontal type 1-gingivitis). CDHCs also will help patients navigate the health system to connect patients with dentists by helping them overcome barriers to care such as lack of transportation or childcare.

CDHCs are recruited from the same communities in which they are trained to serve, including remote rural areas, urban areas and Native American communities, thus eliminating many of the cultural, language and sociological barriers that might otherwise impede their effectiveness.

"I'll help dentists by knowing the people of the community. They know me and trust me," said Melissa Tyler, who completed her training program at the University of Oklahoma. "I can go to schools, nursing homes or community centers to educate people. The more I can help someone, the better they'll be."

"The new CDHCs are excited about the roles that they will play in their communities," said Marsha Beatty, co-director of the CDHC program at the University of Oklahoma. "They all worked hard to learn valuable skills that they can use to help improve the oral health of people who live in underserved communities. We couldn't be more pleased by what they have accomplished, and we look forward to future success."

CDHCs can be employed by Federally Qualified Health Centers, the Indian Health Service and tribal clinics, state or county public health clinics or private practice dental clinics in underserved areas. To become a coordinator, students must complete 12 months of online course work, in-person clinical training and six-month internships. The training consists of nearly 1,900 hours of instruction in topics such as human psychology, sociology and communications, biomedical sciences, dental sciences and clinical sciences. The CDHCs will incorporate their new skills in their current positions at the clinics with which they are affiliated.

Each pilot program is under the direction of a major university. Temple University in Pennsylvania is training students to work in urban areas; the University of Oklahoma is training students to work in rural communities; and the University of California at Los Angeles in conjunction with Salish Kootenai College in Montana is training students to work in Native American communities. All of the educational institutions collaborate with Rio Salado College in Tempe, Ariz. to deliver the online and clinical components of the curriculum.

The ADA is funding the pilot program through 2012 and is seeking additional future funding from corporations, foundations and government. Henry Schein, Inc. (Nasdaq:HSIC), the largest provider of health care products and services to office-based practitioners, recently became the first such corporate supporter of the CDHC program, donating dental equipment valued at approximately $860,000. Please visit to learn more about the ADA's CDHC pilot program.