Prevention and Education

Bringing dental health education and disease prevention into communities

While so much of health care reform is focused on allowing people to access care, the best, most cost-effective way to improve people’s health is to reduce the need for care. There are many ways New Mexico dentists are working on improving our oral health before we even get into a dentist’s chair.

Here are some examples of how we advocate for the investment in policies that support oral health outside of the dental clinics and offices.

Action Plan Initiatives:

  • Implement a statewide incentive program for community water fluoridation. A statewide strategy to encourage fluoridation could reap many benefits. Rather than regulations requiring fluoridation, the state could provide incentives to communities that provide optimal levels. Since the state will realize the most direct savings in programs like Medicaid, the cost of incentives will be more than offset. Incentives could be given to directly offset the costs of water treatment or could be earmarked for indigent care which would provide multiple benefits to communities. Communities would maintain autonomy over their water supplies, but the state’s endorsement would remove some of the barriers that serve as excuses for not fluoridating. Ultimately it would allow the state, local communities and individual citizens to share the benefits and savings of improved dental health.
  • Establish a qualified dentist as New Mexico State Dental Director and empower him or her to create an effective preventive dental public health program. A state dental director would encourage a dental public health vision and could create and staff programs to make the prevention of all types of dental disease a priority.
  • Establish a requirement that children have a documented dentist’s examination prior to enrolling in school in New Mexico. One way to encourage parents to establish a dental HOME for their young children is to require that children have a dentist’s examination prior to beginning school. Since dental problems can be a major source of pain and distraction to school age children it would benefit them as students to prevent or minimize dental problems. Once a dental HOME is established, the likelihood of regular follow-up and treatment is greatly improved, as is their long-term health outlook. It accomplishes much the same goals of vaccinations and other requirements for entry into school.
  • Establish Community Dental Health Coordinator training programs in conjunction with accredited dental assisting and dental hygiene programs. A number of years ago, the American Dental Association was challenged on behalf of the profession, to address the growing needs of populations having difficulty acquiring dental care. It undertook a concerted effort to understand the problems and barriers that confront these populations. Many of the barriers were chiefly economic, but some were cultural or educational. It was determined that bridging the gap between the existing care resources and unmet need was paramount. Since most dental care is delivered through the team approach, it is logical that an addition to the team might facilitate acquisition of care. Thus was born the concept of the Community Dental Health Coordinator.

The concept is modeled on the successful medical promotoras that provide a needed cultural and communications bridge between populations with significant barriers and available health services. While providing some preventive and emergency services, they also promote dental health through education and facilitate more efficient and effective visits to nearby dental practices or clinics. By reducing hospital emergency room visits, broken appointments and more complicated and expensive treatment, the CDHC provides savings for Medicaid, health insurers, patients and practitioners. Most will be educated as dental assistants or hygienists, but will have additional training as community health workers. Read the ADA's white paper Breaking Down Barriers to Oral Health for All Americans: The Community Dental Health Coordinator (PDF).

New Mexico became the first state in the country to have a Community Dental Health Coordinator (CDHC) educational program when CNM began classes in fall 2014. Since then, two classes of CDHC's have graduated and moved on to help clinics, tribes and offices across New Mexico.

National initiatives supported by the New Mexico Dental Association

Strengthen collaborations with other health professionals and organizations. Better collaboration among dental and medical professionals can be a means to ensure all Americans understand their dental health is a crucial part of their overall health. The dental health of a pregnant woman or a mother can affect the health of the baby. Maintaining good oral hygiene is one element to maintaining optimal overall health for people living with such conditions as diabetes or HIV. With minimal training, physicians, nurses, educators and others can dramatically increase the number of patients and caregivers who receive basic dental health education. These professionals also can be trained to recognize conditions needing diagnosis and possible treatment by a dentist. As part of its ongoing work to foster these collaborations, the ADA will convene a diverse group of oral health stakeholders at a Prevention Summit in November.