Good oral health supports life-long health and achievements in education, employment, and social relationships. Diseases of the mouth frequently are painless and will continue to progress resulting in complex and costly services. The best protection is a healthy diet of low sugar food and beverages, the mineral fluoride, dental sealants, stopping of tobacco use, good home care and regular access to professional care.
Access to oral health care varies across Illinois. 75 of the 102 Illinois counties are considered Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs). HPSAs are designations that indicate health care provider shortages. Working for a HPSA-designated health care facility may qualify you for loan repayment or scholarship opportunities.
The Division of Oral Health is combating the HPSAs through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Illinois Oral Health Workforce Grant. Illinois is working to increases the number of skilled providers of oral health care to improve the health status of community members living in targeted Dental HPSAs by expanding the role and numbers of the three community health-related professionals - Community Health Workers, Community Dental Health Coordinators and Public Health Dental Hygienists.
Community Health Workers (CHW)
CHW's are frontline public health workers who have a close understanding of the community they serve. The CHW’s are vital for any language, cultural, and trust barriers that exist with traditional medicine. Although the community health worker may not be a traditional oral health worker, the CHW’s ability to assist their clients with access to care includes any dental needs that their clients may need.
Community Dental Health Coordinators (CDHC)
CDHC's in Illinois are generally dental hygiene students of those out in practice. They are trained to understand community needs and assets and can easily share oral health education and disease prevention information to empower people in underserved communities to manage their own oral health. When treatment is needed, CDHCs can help navigate patients into a community care setting and address other needs they have, such as enrollment in public insurance programs, transportation to health care appointments and other services.
Public Health Dental Hygienist (PHDH)
A PHDH works with a dentist who has a written public health supervision agreement with that PHDH to work in an approved facility or program that allows the PHDH to treat patients, without a dentist first. A registered dental hygienist who has undergone additional training and work experience may obtain a PHDH certificate. This type of provider can increase access to preventive services when and where a dentist’s availability is limited.
Find more Oral Health Careers information here.
Find Dental and Dental Hygiene Schools in Illinois here.