Implementing a Community-based Oral Health Care Program: Lessons Learned


Send correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Diamond, Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery, Division of Community Health, 630 West 168th Street, New York, NY 10032. E-mail: Dr. Litwak is with Columbia University Departments of Sociomedical Sciences and Sociology. Dr. A. Diamond is affiliated with the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Dr. Marshall is associate dean of Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery.


Objectives: The objective of this paper is to report key findings of a process evaluation that may be useful to other institutions seeking to implement a community-based oral health care program primarily targeting children in dentally underserved communities. By partnering with community-based organizations, public schools, and community health care providers, the Columbia University School of Oral and Dental Surgery (SDOS) established the Community DentCare Network (DentCare) in the Harlem and Washington Heights/lnwood neighborhoods of northern Manhattan. These low-income neighborhoods are characterized by poor oral health and have been designated by the federal government as health professions shortage areas. Methods: The method used in the process evaluation was open-ended qualitative interviewing by a sociologist with extensive experience in this methodology aided by a participant-observer within the DentCare program. Results: The heterogeneity of the two communities required different strategies and resources to gain trust and acceptance. Fundamental changes were required of SDOS over a 10-year period, beginning with prioritizing community service into a primary mission. Collaborating with medical clinics facilitated the implementation of the network when the partners shared the same philosophical goals. Faculty and staff with different skills were needed during the start-up and the sustained development phases of the program.