Healthier Smiles from the Mountains to the Coast

School of Dental Medicine - Community Service Learning Centers - Elizabeth City, NC

Elizabeth City, NC

County: Camden and Pasquotank Counties
Camden County population: 10,071
Number of dentists: 0
Median Household income: $47,396.
Pasquotank County population: 41,991
Number of dentists: 12
Median Household Income: $38,127.

Other Info:
• Elizabeth City is known as the "Harbor of Hospitality."
• The town is the county seat of Pasquotank County.
• Elizabeth City was cited as one of "The 100 Best Small Towns in America" by Norman Crampton.

View images from the community.

Elizabeth City, known as "the Harbor of Hospitality," lies just west of the Outer Banks of North Carolina and just south of Hampton Roads, Virginia. The town boasts a beautiful waterfront area and writer Norm Campton has also recognized the community as one of the "100 Best Small Towns in America."

Unfortunately, like many other towns in rural North Carolina, Elizabeth City's dental-health needs have far exceeded its available resources. However, through collaboration with East Carolina's School of Dental Medicine, more top-notch dental care is soon on the way.

Elizabeth City has been chosen as the site for one of the SoDM's community service-learning centers. The site is located across the street from Albemarle Hospital on 1144 North Road Street.

According to Phil Donahue, vice president of Albemarle Hospital Foundation and Community Outreach, ECU's community service-learning center will truly be an asset to the community.

"We ran the numbers and saw that over 2 percent of the visits in our ED were dental related," he said. "This shocked me, and gives you an idea of how bad the problem is. The people who are showing up - their teeth are in horrific shape."

Albemarle Hospital and Albemarle Regional Health Services (ARHS), who both have been working with ECU to make this dental facility a possibility, serve a seven-county region. Seventeen private-practice dentists cover the service area, but of those seven counties, two, Gates and Camden, do not have private-practicing dentists. There is a small, single operatory in the Camden County Health Department, but there is no x-ray ability there.

Jerry Parks, health director of Albemarle Regional Health Services, said local dentists have been very generous in helping with the most extreme dental cases, but their private practices are just becoming too full. A mobile dental program, which began in 1973 with two units, was founded to help bridge this oral health gap. However, today, only one mobile unit is operable, and all of its patients are birth to 21 years old.

According to Parks, the lack of dental resources is truly detrimental to residents.

"Oral health translates into all issues of physical health," he said. "Also, the lack of dental care impacts self-esteem, especially for children in school."

Donahue added that ECU's service-learning model will benefit the dental students and community members involved.

"We really want the students to get out in the community and see what our residents are facing, both economically and health-wise," said Donahue. "It is good for students to be exposed to rural health and its challenges."

Parks echoed Donahue's thoughts.

"Once the dental students integrate into the community, they will love it. They will be changed people when they leave," he said. "Also, the service-learning center is going to have top-notch equipment and cutting-edge technology, which will help the students have the best learning experience possible."

The bottom line to oral health success, though, Parks maintains, is education.

"Parents must educate their children about dental hygiene," he said. "We must train our new generation about the important of oral health, and a big part of that is having the assess to resources, like this community service-learning center."

School of Dental Medicine - Community Service Learning Centers - NC Map
Explore the map below to learn more about the School of Dental Medicine and the six communities that have been selected as sites for Community Service-Learning Centers.
new pinNew communities will be announced over the next few months for the remaining six Community Service-Learning Centers. As sites are announced, information about the communities will be updated on this map. Check back from time to time to see the progress the School of Dental Medicine is making or subscribe to our RSS Feed and follow East Carolina on Twitter for the latest news from the university.

East Cover Story - Fall 2011
Waiting for an ECU Dentist
Thousands of people across the state who desperately need access to care are the focus of the new School of Dental Medicine.