Senator Kevin Corbin tours CIHA dental clinic for National Child Dental Health Month

February is not just the month of love; it’s also dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of dental health in children. Child Dental Health Month, celebrated annually, highlights the significance of oral hygiene practices that can prevent tooth decay and promote healthy smiles for a lifetime. This month holds particular significance for Native American communities, offering a unique opportunity to address oral health disparities. Senator Kevin Corbin, joined by his son, Dr. Matt Corbin, owner of Corbin Dental in Macon County, spent Friday afternoon learning about the unique challenges enrolled members face when accessing dental care.


Native American children face significant challenges when it comes to oral health. According to the Indian Health Service (IHS), Native American children aged 2-5 years have the highest rate of tooth decay among all U.S. racial and ethnic groups. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that American Indian and Alaska Native children experience higher rates of untreated tooth decay, leading to more pain and oral health issues.

Dr. Matt Corbin helping a pediatric patient at his practice, Corbin Dental, in Franklin, NC. Dr. Matt Corbin is an Air Force veteran with premier dental training.

Efforts to improve oral health among Native American children are underway across the country. The IHS, tribal health programs, and community organizations are working together to increase access to preventive dental services, such as fluoride treatments and dental sealants. These initiatives aim to reduce the prevalence of tooth decay and improve oral health outcomes.


The Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority is constantly working to improve access for members of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians is excited to welcome a new Pediatric Dentist to the staff, Dr. Constance Comeaux. A graduate of the LSU School of Dentistry, Dr. Comeaux brings more than 30 years working as a general dentist, with 19 years treating only children ages birth to 21 years old to CIHA.


“We recognize the need to ensure access to dental care here in Western North Carolina and are excited to welcome Dr. Comeaux to the team to specifically improve services for our pediatric patients,” said Cherokee Indian Hospital CEO Casey Cooper. “The issues we face here for Tribal Members surrounding access to care isn’t unique to us. There is a broader issue around the lack of workforce availability to meet the dental needs across Western North Carolina. To be able to effectively find a solution for that problem, we rely on community partners like Southwestern Community College and Senator Kevin Corbin to work together for the good of the entire region.”


Dr. Matt Corbin serves on Southwestern Community College’s Dental Assistant Program Advisory Board along with Cherokee Indian Hospital Director of Operations Mary Beth Dorgan. Collectively, the group works to address workforce shortages through available courses at SCC.


“Positions like Dental Assistants and Dental Hygienists are fundamental to providing dental care, “said Dr. Matt Corbin. “When the closest school for someone wanting to become a dental hygienist is in Asheville, that makes it challenging so they end up shifting their focus. WNC is fortunate to have SCC willing to address our workforce needs so that we as providers can best serve our communities.”


Senator Corbin has been working with SCC and CIHA to support their collaborative approach to building WNC’s workforce on the state level. State funding for the bricks and mortar to launch a training program for dental hygienists at SCC would allow CIHA and SCC to focus on the coursework and clinical application.


“We each have strengths and different strings we can pull and wheels we can grease, but it will take combining all of that to really be effective,” said Senator Corbin. “And hopefully, at the end of the day, we can strengthen the educational opportunities in WNC, add to the workforce for the benefit of the local economy, all while improving the rights our friends and neighbors have to access quality dental care.”


Child Dental Health Month serves as a reminder of the importance of oral health in children. For Native American communities, it is an opportunity to address oral health disparities and work towards improving the overall health and well-being of Indigenous youth. By promoting access to dental care services and implementing culturally relevant programs, we can help ensure that every child has a healthy smile.


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