Far too many Americans have trouble accessing dental care. It is a serious challenge that I had no idea even existed, until I began as a new dental director at a health center in 2001. Then, I saw how confused people were with the terminology of dental care and how to make an appointment.
People live with untreated dental disease and many more are at risk of disease, often because they don’t understand how to take care of their oral health and are not getting routine preventive care. It is hard to believe with so many available dentists in the US that this problem still exists.
The ADA’s Health Policy Institute indicate cost as the top cited reason why people didn’t visit the dentist in the past year. When you’re living at or below the federal poverty level, the cost for any health care visit may seem like an insurmountable barrier.
There is a program that helps people obtain the vital dental care they need and deserve. Community Dental Health Coordinators (CDHCs) are the newest addition to the dental care team, who can perform clinical preventative services and community-based outreach duties. CDHCs are unique because they are community health workers additionally trained to connect those in underserved communities to the dental care they deserve. That’s why CDHCs are so vitally needed—to help connect underserved people in need of dental care with public health resources and with dentists who will treat them.
The CDHC performs certain preventative services under the supervision of a dentist, one of their key roles is helping patients to navigate the health care system. Most CDHCs are working in inner cities, remote rural areas and American Indian territories, and are often from the same communities they serve. CDHCs help bridge such barriers as poverty, geography, language, culture differences and a lack of understanding of oral hygiene.
As you explore your early career options as a new dentist, maybe a new business owner, too, I ask you to explore how having a CDHC could help both your patients and your practice. Let’s work to get underserved patients the care they deserve and need in your communities.
For more information, visit www.ADA.org/ACTION
For more videos on CDHCs, see below: