Dental coordinator program first in Va.

May 24, 2015

    Patrick Henry Community College will be the first institution in the state to offer training for community dental health coordinators this fall.
    The program, along with one to train dental assistants, received $60,000 over three years in a Harvest Foundation grant awarded Friday.
    The community dental health coordinator is a dental team member whose primary function is preventing dental disease with an emphasis on community health worker skills, according to a Harvest Foundation news release.
    The coordinator will focus on increasing awareness of the importance of oral health and how to become and stay healthy through community outreach, helping patients navigate the health care system, and providing oral health education and clinical preventive services, such as screenings, X-rays, fluoride and sealants, the release stated.
    A coordinator normally would work in a community health center, public health department or in a practice or clinic, said Angeline Godwin, president of PHCC, according to a Martinsville Bulletin article Sunday.
    Dr. Luciana Sweis of the American Dental Association (ADA) described the position as combining a human services/social worker with a dental assistant, Godwin said, adding that coordinators typically earn $27,000 to $38,000 a year depending on location and other factors.
    According to Godwin, the dental health coordinator training program was brought to the college’s attention by Dr. Mark Crabtree, president of the Piedmont Virginia Dental Health Foundation. At the same time, PHCC was “very interested in broadening health care training options in our facility,” Godwin said.
    The coordinator position was designed by the ADA to help people in rural or low-income areas who have some impediment to dental health care and dental health professionals, Godwin said.
    Finances and access to care are common impediments, she said.
    People in those situations have a high concentration of dental emergencies and they generally receive care in an emergency facility more than people in the general population, she said.
    “They (health professionals) know if they can get them to treatment before it is an emergency, it is less painful, traumatic and costly,” Godwin said.
    Several pilot programs have been done and “determined that community colleges are best situated” for the dental health coordinator training, she said. Patrick Henry, as the first institution to offer the program in the state, will have a “lead role in driving that training in the commonwealth,” she added.
    Crabtree said the clinic is excited to partner with PHCC on the program, which could draw students from throughout the state to Martinsville.
    “We’ll be in a place where we’ll be able to have ... people from across the state come get the training at PHCC” and the dental clinic, he said.
    As PHCC was working on the program with the American Dental Association, the Virginia Dental Association and Crabtree, it became apparent that the time was right to also implement the dental assisting program, Godwin said.
    The dental assistants program will train participants to assist dentists during examinations and procedures, according to the release. They also will prepare patients for their exams, take X-rays, sterilize instruments and perform many on-site laboratory duties. Students in the dental assistants program will receive training in basic dental science and dental office skills.
    Previously, the local dental foundation contracted with a private school for that training at the Community Dental Clinic in Martinsville, she said. Now, the dental clinic will host the clinical training part of the dental assisting program, she added.
    “We wouldn’t have been able to move forward with a program like this if we didn’t have the clinic,” Godwin said.
    The dental assisting and coordinator “programs are inter-related and completely compatible with each other,” she added.
    Each program will take 18 months to earn certification, and no prior health care experience or training is needed, Godwin said. Only the standard work force training assessment is required of prospective students.
    The Harvest grant funds will “allow us to jump-start the program in the short term,” she said. “Otherwise it might take a year or two to raise the extra funds for make the transition.”
    The money will be used for materials and supplies. Also, a small portion of a nursing faculty member’s time will go to oversee the program.
    “Part of the job is to establish this as a career pathway and educate the community on what it is and what we can do. We have learned from other areas that once the health care community (and others) understand and see the value of these coordinators, it (the program) really sells itself,” Godwin added.


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