From a young age, Matthew Mecheal, DDS, has been sure about two things: his passion for helping others and his love for dentistry. Through the years, he never lost sight of his goals or the values that were instilled in him many years ago. As an advocate for the underserved and this year’s recipient of the CDA Foundation’s Student Loan Repayment Grant, Dr. Mecheal plans to focus on his personal objective to improve the oral health of underserved communities and minimize barriers to care.
“Applying for the Student Loan Repayment Grant is one of the best decisions I’ve made since graduating dental school,” he said. “I am able to go to work and help others knowing that CDA has my back and is assisting me with my mountainous student loans.”
Mecheal graduated from Loma Linda University School of Dentistry in May and has now turned his desire to help others into a career; he works as a dentist with St. Jude Neighborhood Health Center, a faith-based organization that provides medical and dental care to underserved communities in Orange County. Mecheal himself was born in the county, in the city of Laguna Niguel.
He credits his family and his church for igniting his desire to work in public health.
“My church and my parents raised me to put others before myself and to serve those who may not have necessities that are conducive to a healthy lifestyle. Working in public health gives me that opportunity to give back to the community that has given so much to me over the years.”
Mecheal’s commitment to serving those in need has taken him around the world. He’s provided care to patients in Honduras and Angola and has volunteered his time and skills at several dental clinics in Southern California, including CDA Cares — a place he says allows him to truly connect with patients.
“Volunteering at CDA Cares gives me the opportunity to develop relationships with my patients,” he said. “The patients really trust us and this allows me to bond with them and provide them with the best quality care that I can give.”
As a former CDA student representative, Mecheal understands that his support for public health initiatives could have the potential to impact millions across the state. In his student leadership role, he gained hands-on experience with grassroot advocacy, meeting with local legislative representatives and discussing critical issues affecting dentistry.
“I believe the valuable lessons I’ve learned as a CDA student representative will positively shape my role as a public health care provider and help me to better serve the community.”
Mecheal is the 20th recipient of the Foundation’s Student Loan Repayment Grant. Awarded annually, the grant provides up to $35,000 per year, for a maximum of $105,000 over three years, to assist with repayment of education loans in exchange for the recipient’s commitment to care for the underserved.
Since 2002, the program has enabled 19 dentists to pursue their passion for working in public health. Altogether they’ve helped nearly 100,000 patients and provided more than $25 million in care for individuals who experience barriers to care. Almost all of those dentists have remained not only in public health but also in the communities where they first served.
Priyadarshini Agrawal, DMD, has been named this year’s Webb Family Grant recipient. The grant provides a $5,000 award to go toward education expenses to the runner-up of the Foundation’s Student Loan Repayment Grant.
Native to a rural village in Northern India, Dr. Agrawal’s personal experiences with oral health care disparities inspired her to focus on a career in public health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Dental School of Medicine, she has provided dental care for underserved communities in India, Pennsylvania, New York and in California where she now works at HealthRight 360, providing care for patients in San Francisco’s highest at-risk communities.
Learn more about the Foundation’s Student Loan Repayment Grant and Webb Family Grant and see a list of past recipients.