ADA launches community dental health coordinator pilot program

Nov. 24, 2009
Pilot program will be implemented at Temple University.

CHICAGO--The American Dental Association has signed an agreement with Temple University to train new dental team members as part of a pilot program to improve the oral health in underserved communities.

The Community Dental Health Coordinator is a member of the dental health team who works in communities in which residents have limited access to dental care to improve their oral health.

The CDHC provides a limited range of preventive dental care services, including screenings and fluoride treatments. But of greater importance to these communities, the CDHC will help patients navigate the health system and access care by a dentist or an appropriate clinic and engage in educational activities to improve community members' oral health habits.

Temple University will recruit and train CDHCs from urban locations in Philadelphia in the next two years, returning them to their communities to work as dental team members under the supervision of dentists.

Although the CDHC is a new dental team member whose merits are not yet known, many studies of the community health worker model indicate the CDHC can make significant contributions to a community.

Because the CDHC will function much like a CHW, the ADA believes that the CDHC also will have a positive impact on the oral health of their communities through education and outreach.

"We are delighted to welcome Temple's participation," said ADA President Dr. Ron Tankersley. "The pilot at Temple will help us understand the effectiveness of a dental health coordinator in underserved urban settings."

Dr. Amid Ismail, dean of Temple University's Kornberg School of Dentistry and one of the architects of the CDHC program, explained why the program is seeking to place CDHC trainees in their communities.

"Our aim is to ensure that the coordinator is able to bridge the gap between local cultures and health care systems," Dr. Ismail said. "The CDHC can help improve people's oral health habits and help patients navigate the social and bureaucratic barriers that prevent them from gaining access to available dental health services.

Temple is the third of three pilot CDHC program sites. One is directed by the University of Oklahoma, which is training CDHCs from rural areas. Meanwhile, the University of California at Los Angeles, in conjunction with Salish Kootenai College in Wyoming, is training students from American Indian communities.

The ADA has funded the program, which will train six students per site each year.

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