At the end of November 2009, the Maurice H. Kornberg School of Dentistry, Temple University signed an agreement with the American Dental Association (ADA) to become the urban site of the ADA's Community Dental Health Coordinator (CDHC) pilot program. The CDHC is a member of the dental health team who works in communities that have limited access to dental care.
Temple's program will give up to 12 members from neighborhoods in North Philadelphia the opportunity to learn how to provide a limited range of dental care services, including screenings and fluoride treatments. More importantly, the CDHC will help patients navigate the health system to gain access to oral care services. "Our aim is to ensure that the coordinator is able to bridge the gap between local cultures and dental health care systems, helping community members navigate social and bureaucratic barriers that prevent them from accessing dental health services," said Dean Amid I. Ismail, one of the architects of the program. One of the goals of the program is for the CDHC to have a positive impact on the community's oral health through education and outreach.
The pilot program at Temple will give educators a chance to understand the effectiveness of a dental health coordinator in an underserved urban setting. Two other CDHC pilot programs are already under way. At the University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry, the program focuses on underserved rural areas, while the University of California, Los Angeles School of Dentistry is working in conjunction with Salish Kootenai College in Montana, training students from American Indian communities.
The North Philadelphia area was recently classified by the Pennsylvania Department of Health as a dental health provider shortage area. Over 240,000 people in the area have relatively few dentists to provide oral health care. The $1.14 million grant from the ADA will help the school get oral care to people who need it. Students and faculty currently spend over 13,000 hours a year in the communities affected, providing free screenings and attending neighborhood health fairs.
Temple's program is part of the school's comprehensive plan to expand its reach and mission, focusing more on streamlining the patient care process. "By becoming a patient-centered institution, which means patients are first, and by providing them with superior care in all regards, we will better educate our students," said Dr. Ismail.
Along with the new pilot program, Temple plans to work with other community members and organizations to help dentists understand the special and specific needs of the underserved population. "As a dentist serving in an area like this, you can't just treat the dental problems," said Dr. Ismail. "You have to address the deeper, complex issues affecting people as well: employment, housing, social conditions, and the lack of social supports."