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Program seeks to improve dental education, care

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 OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A pilot program involving researchers at the University of Oklahoma, UCLA and Temple University will seek to give people in rural, urban and tribal areas better access to dental care.

American Dental Association President John Findley joined officials from the OU Health Sciences Center on Friday to announce the creation of the Community Dental Health Coordinator program.

The five-year program will study the use of a new type of health professional called a community dental health coordinator. The coordinator would work in parts of the country that don't have easy or regular access to routine dental care.

"We have a huge problem in this country, and that is access to care," Findley said. "We in dentistry believe that we have some good answers.

"There is no reason in the United States of America that a child goes to bed with a toothache or wakes up with an infection. What this program does is extend the reach of dentistry into areas that are remote that do not have the opportunity on a regular basis to touch someone interested in their oral health."

The coordinator would be a part of a dental team that included a dentist. In Oklahoma, those coordinators will work primarily with people in rural areas. Those at Temple, in Philadelphia, will work with urban residents while those at the University of California, Los Angeles will serve the American Indian tribal community, Findley said.

The coordinators already live in the areas they will serve and work at federally qualified local or tribal health centers. They will receive online and distance education for a year then begin serving a six-month internship.

"We're trying to figure out how to solve some access to care problems that we have," said Dunn Cumby, the chairman of the Division of Community Dentistry in OU's College of Dentistry. "... What determines if it is successful or not is if we have an impact on access to care in the areas that need it the most."

The coordinators will serve as a sort of ambassador to those who often don't seek dental care until an emergency arises and will be able to perform basic services. They will encourage preventive care and be able to help patients schedule appointments with dentists when necessary.

One of the initial coordinators to be trained is 25-year-old Jessica Johnson of Clayton, a town of about 700 people in Pushmataha County in far southeastern Oklahoma. As a worker in that town's health clinic, she said sees the need for such a program.

"No one there has the income it takes to get oral health care they would need," she said.

Cumby said the clinics will work on a sliding fee scale.

The program is being funded initially through $2 million in startup funds from the American Dental Association, Findley said.

 Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.




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