Cherokee Nation in-school dental program lowering cavity rate for students


Cherokee Nation dentist Dr. Mechelle Speed examines second-grade student Isaiah Walema’s teeth during a visit to the Cherokee Immersion Charter School.

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — A Cherokee Nation program that brings dental services into area schools is helping lower the cavity rate among Cherokee children.

Cherokee Nation dental staff travels to schools and early head start programs throughout the Cherokee Nation’s 14-county jurisdiction applying sealants and fluoride varnish to students who are Cherokee.

According to an Indian Health Services survey, 20.6 percent of Cherokee children ages 1-5 showed tooth decay compared to 54.1 percent of the 8,500 children screened in 63 tribal and Indian Health Services facilities. Cherokee children were also five times less likely to have untreated tooth decay compared to the 38.5 percent of Indian Health Services children.

“Preventing cavities is very important because good oral health is a vital part of improving overall health for our children,” said Dr. Mechelle Speed, a Cherokee Nation dentist. “The school-based dental prevention program has proven to be successful, since the Cherokee Nation has one of the lowest early childhood cavity rates among tribal and Indian Health Services facilities nationwide. I am honored to provide such an important service for our young Cherokee children.”

The Cherokee Nation’s dental prevention program staff has visited numerous schools, including Hulbert Public Schools, Cherokee Immersion Charter School and Vinita Public Schools. Cherokee Nation dentists plan to visit students at Peggs Public School, Sequoyah High School, Briggs Public School and Gore Public Schools in May, as well as Dahlonegah Public School in June.

"Dr. Speed has done an outstanding job with this dentistry program,” Cherokee Nation Sr. Dental Director Dr. Stephen Jones said. “We are starting to work with the education department to identify and expand the schools we serve.  Prevention and education is the most important job we have in health care, and it all starts in forming good habits at an early age."

The Cherokee Nation  also provides dental services in its Sallisaw, Stilwell, Muskogee, Salina, Jay and Vinita health centers and W.W. Hastings Hospital. Combined, the Cherokee Nation Dental Services program has 92 dental chairs and increased dental patient visits by 11 percent from fiscal year 2012 to 2013. Dental patient visits jumped from 61,000 to 68,737 in that time.

For more information on the dental prevention program, contact Dr. Mechelle Speed at 918-458-3150 or
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