Unit 1: Essential Elements
Unit 1: Essential Elements

Section 1. Partnerships and Planning

Building Collaborative Relationships

Partners are essential to success. They can:

  • Help you better understand local needs and assets by broadening perspectives
  • Challenge assumptions that you may have become too comfortable with
  • Expand the circle of collaboration into a viable coalition/network
  • Build the necessary political will for supporting these community efforts
  • Ensure sustainability and continuity

Community partnerships are a core element of public health projects and initiatives. Your goal is to gather a diverse cross-section of the community who have interest in improving oral health access, including representatives of the school system, local businesses, the hospital, oral health professionals and health professionals, elected officials, advocacy and social service agencies, and consumers themselves. Don't expect potential partners to share your passion from the start. Utilize your compelling data and well-chosen anecdotes to illustrate the unmet need within the community and how poor oral health affects more than just an individual. Address the employability, self-esteem, and educational concerns associated with poor oral health. Speak to the importance of oral health as integral to overall health.

Even at this early stage, learn from others’ experience. Contact the local health department dental director, if you are fortunate enough to have one, or the state dental director. What efforts have been tried previously to improve oral health access for underserved populations in the area? What was successful? Are those efforts still ongoing? If not, why not? Is there a successful similar effort in another county that might be replicated?

At your initial community meeting, make your pitch about the seriousness of the problem, and describe your vision for addressing unmet oral health needs within the community. Explore the preliminary findings of your needs assessment. Remember that this is a dialogue. You invited potential partners to discuss the issue. Invite your guests to comment upon what they have heard and to share their experiences. Be open to expanding or revising your vision.

If possible, invite someone from a neighboring community or clinic to share their experience addressing unmet oral health needs. Having a supportive private practice dentist speak could go far in building collaboration with the local dental society. Transparency is key to success and gathering partners. If you are successful in gaining support, you will emerge with the beginnings of a working group committed to the next phase, which is planning.


  • A Model Framework for Community Oral Health Programs Based Upon the 10 Essential Public Health Services. Developed by the American Association of Community Dental Programs, this resource provides a context in which to consider the relationship between oral health activities, public health responsibilities, and desired outcomes, while describing how oral health can be promoted within the context of the 10 Essential Public Health Services to improve a community’s overall oral health status.
  • Community Tool Box: Training Curriculum. This training curriculum is designed for use in workshops, classes, and webinars to support core skills in community work. Its sixteen training modules have been field-tested in a variety of settings, including coalition workshops, non-profit trainings, and college courses.
  • A Guide for Developing and Enhancing Community Oral Health Programs. This guide walks local public health agencies through the steps for developing, integrating, expanding, or enhancing community oral health programs.
  • Coalition Building. This resource from the Center for Community Health and Development at the University of Kansas is part of a larger community tool box, with content, a checklist, examples, and tools.
  • Community How to Guide on Coalition Building. This resource from the Hunger Free Communities Network outlines the various steps that bring together a diverse group of people in pursuit of a common goal. Though the guide focuses on coalitions that seek to reduce underage drinking in their communities, it presents information that is useful for any coalition goal.