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How to help Oklahoma’s rural poor fastest? Sit them in a dentist chair

WATONGA, Okla. - A matter of weeks since her last chemotherapy treatment for ovarian cancer, and without a car, Donna Marshall still hurried to make this appointment Wednesday morning in Watonga.

"Yes I did. I walked it," she says. "It was important to me."

John Hernandez, a cancer patient himself, lost his wife to a sudden heart attack less than two weeks ago but other than his morning coffee, he wasn't about to wait on the same type of appointment his wife made for him before she died.

"But you know I'm going to make it," he insists.

A mile on foot, from the depths of his grief, what kind of appointment would make these two Watongans drop everything to keep?

"I had two bad teeth up here," says Hernandez.

"Because I had teeth that needed to be fixed and I didn't have the money to do it," states Marshall.

A dentist appointment with Mobile Smiles of Oklahoma.

"Dentists are so expensive anyway," continues Hernandez, "And when you don't have insurance..."

This truck is here for two days, parked beside the local Community Action office.

Each day as many as 14 patients come in who lack the coverage, the access, the money, you name it, to see a dentist.

One licensed dentist, two university students, and two more hygienists perform extractions, cleanings, and screenings.

Community Action directors like Carla Flynn say this service is at the top of the list for Oklahoma's rural poor.

Flynn says, "Dental has come up on our community needs assessments, the last two that we've done,"

People connected with this Mobile Smiles RV agree.

Last year this truck was open somewhere in Oklahoma for 360 days.

Coordinator John Wilguess says it's impact on the people who sit in these chairs is immediate.

"Their nutrition, their job possibilities, and their overall health," he says.

Donna smiles and says, "That's the best dentist appointment I've ever been to."

John Hernandez says, "They did these teeth and I was blessed for them to do that."

The next town will see a dozen more waiting in line for the same treatment.

Click here for information on the Mobile Smiles unit.

And click here for more information on the Watonga Community Action office which serves 13 western Oklahoma counties or any of the other such agencies in the state.