How CHWs Help Dental Providers

schoolgirlpuzzleResearch is pointing to the major impact of oral health on quality of life through its impact on chronic illness, growth and development, good nutrition and overall health. Yet, many families lack access to dental services and may not practice daily preventive oral health habits, for a variety of reasons. Untreated oral disease can lead to painful and costly complications, even death.

According to Minnesota’s new oral health plan, the state’s rankings, while overall quite good, leave room for improvement, especially among children and adults living in poverty, people of color, and the elderly. One way to improve dental access is through a more diverse dental workforce. Adopting CHW services is a workforce strategy to address dental health disparities.

  • Are you seeing baby bottle mouth and high rates of preventable dental caries among young children?
    • CHWs can teach families about the value and practice of sound oral hygiene, acquaint them with a regular schedule of routine preventive dental care, and help prepare those patients who may need oral surgery with accurate and culturally-appropriate information.
  • Do you find that foreign-born patients are in need of oral health education in their own language in order to make a difference—but translated brochures are just not working?
    • CHWs bridge cultural and language barriers.
  • Do you need to find a way to eliminate the waste associated with missed appointments?
    • CHWs  reduce missed appointments.  They can make reminder calls and arrange for transportation in a busy dental office, enabling other practitioners to work “at the top of their licenses
  • Are you finding that families do not have regular access to fluoridated drinking water?
    • CHWs can help organize communities in support of fluoridated water and dental health equity.
  • Are you looking to gear up and retool your practice to address the dental health needs of many individuals and families who previously lacked dental benefits?
    • Consider integrating CHW services on your team along with dental therapists and dental hygienists to build an effective model.

Spotlight:  Children’s Dental Services, St. Paul

With multiple locations in the Twin Cities and across the state, CDS employs 18 public health outreach specialists—a role under the CHW umbrella—and expects to hire two more this year. Reflecting the diverse population served by CDS, they come from 10 countries in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Southeast Asia. Jeff Bartleson of CDS shares the following story on how their CHW staff make a difference:

“One of our Head Start home visitors…was meeting with a family in their home. There was a very young child in the home who was in pain but would only open his mouth for his uncle. It turns out that his uncle would periodically sterilize a pin or needle to drain fluid from an infection in his mouth. After spending some time with the family, the CDS staff member was able to visually inspect the child’s mouth. We then utilized one of our Hmong-speaking Public Health Outreach Specialists (CHWs) to work with the family to follow-through with the recommended treatment. In this case the child was referred for hospital-based care. We worked with the family to have a pre-op physical performed and had all necessary treatment performed under general anesthesia. As we are the dental provider for this Head Start program and many others, we were able to continue to see the child who still has great oral health.”