Partners are essential to success. They can:
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.