A dentist wearing a protective face masks conducts an oral health screening for a school-aged child

Zufall Health’s Community Dental Health Coordinator Training Program Facilitates Access to Dental Care in New Jersey and Beyond

Zufall Health is committed to providing access to high-quality, affordable, and culturally responsive health care, including dental care. Our Community Dental Health Coordinator (CDHC) program is one of our many innovative approaches for helping people access dental services, and the accomplishments of inaugural graduate Sherry Laliberte, RDH, in particular, help to illuminate its far-reaching impact.

Above: Zufall Health dentist Antonella Maietta, DMD, conducts an oral health screening of a young child’s mouth to identify decay. 

Barriers to Dental Care

Accessing dental care is particularly difficult for many people:

More than a quarter of adults have untreated cavities, or tooth decay—which puts them at greater risk for pain, infections, tooth loss, and serious medical conditions. The CDC reports that 34 million school hours are lost to unplanned dental emergency visits each year, while untreated oral disease costs $45 billion in productivity annually.

What is Zufall’s CDHC Program?

Developed  by the American Dental Association (ADA) and funded by LIBERTY Dental Plan, Zufall’s CDHC course is the first of its kind offered at a community health center. The 54-credit-hour program teaches dental professionals how to apply skills in advocacy and outreach, communication and cultural competency, and motivational interviewing to help patients manage their oral health care.

In 2019, several members of Zufall’s dental department, including dentist and CDHC instructor Antonella Maietta, DMD, earned the CDHC designation. This experience encouraged our health center to implement our own online learning program for professionals across the country.

“Using our CDHC training, we increased Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations, which helps to prevent oral cancer,” said Maietta. “Our success showed us firsthand the important role that CDHCs play in a dental department.”

Picture of a woman in black shirt smiling

Sherry Laliberte, RDH

How Sherry Laliberte, RDH, Uses Her CDHC Training in Her Own Community

Registered dental hygienist Sherry Laliberte, RDH, completed the Zufall CDHC program in September 2022. Located in the rural Agusta, Maine region, she is the program manager for MCD Global Health, a nonprofit organization that works with the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prior to MCD, she worked for 26 years in private dental practice, and 15 years providing dental care to vulnerable children in Maine via a mobile van.

“After providing dental care to very different pediatric populations, I was motivated to address disparities in access,” Laliberte says.

Laliberte’s Zufall CDHC demonstration project, “Oral Health Navigator (OHN),” jumpstarts access to dental care for underserved children in Maine, the state with the highest percentage of population living in a rural area. Through eight hours of online training and 24 hours of hands-on supervised training, the OHN program teaches community health workers and other health professionals how to perform oral health screenings, effectively offering a pathway into the dental workforce. An oral health screening is an inspection of the mouth for decay and infections. When necessary, a referral to a dentist follows a screening for proper follow-up care. To date, 12 individuals, many of whom are school nurses, have completed Laliberte’s OHN credential.

Laliberte’s latest project is the Children’s Oral Health E-Learning Platform (COHELP), a set of interactive gaming tools that teach school-age children about the basics of oral health, including the importance and mechanics of brushing and flossing and making food choices that strengthen teeth. Suitable for children in prekindergarten through high school, COHELP has been accessed by more 600 users, both in the U.S. and abroad.

Beyond her OHN and COHELP projects, Laliberte says that the Zufall CDHC training remains highly relevant to her professionally: “I am grateful for the program as it continues to inform my work at MCD. It taught me so much about the social determinants of health in the context of dental care, how to develop a program, and how to plan strategically.”

Earn the CDHC Designation with Zufall Health

Zufall’s CDHC program, now nearing the graduation of its second class, provides an exciting opportunity for dental professionals to actively facilitate patient access to care. Applicants must live in the U.S. and hold a certified dental assistant (CDA) certification or higher, e.g., registered dental hygienist (RDH) or dentist (DDS or DMD). Email Zufall CDHC faculty member JoJo Magno to be notified when applications open.

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