Healthier Smiles from the Mountains to the Coast

School of Dental Medicine - Community Service Learning Centers - Greenville, NC

Greenville, NC

County: Pitt County
County population: 157,306
Number of dentists: 67
Median household income: $43,148

Other info:
• Greenville is the home of East Carolina University and Pitt Memorial Hospital.
• It is the county seat of Pitt County.
• The Daily Reflector is the main daily newspaper in Greenville.

View images from the community.

When ECU's School of Dental Medicine admitted its first class of 50 dental students in August of 2011, the university entered a new era of dental care, as it became the second dental school in North Carolina.

The School of Dental Medicine will be housed in the new Ledyard E. Ross Hall on ECU's Health Sciences Campus in Greenville, North Carolina. Ross Hall is named after local orthodontist and businessman Dr. Ledyard Ross who donated $4 million for the new building.

The school strives to improve the health and quality of life of all North Carolinians by creating leaders with a passion to care for the underserved and by leading the nation in community-based, service-learning oral health education. ECU's dental school especially focuses on preparing students to successfully practice in rural communities.

As part of its mission to provide quality dental care for rural communities in North Carolina, the School of Dental Medicine will place 10 community service-learning centers throughout the state. Each area chosen as a service-learning center site was recognized as having substantial unmet dental needs. As of now, six sites have been identified: Sylva, Lillington, Ahoskie, Spruce Pine, Lexington, and Elizabeth City. The Ahoskie center has opened and is making a positive impact on dental health in the community.

A full-time dental school faculty member will staff each center, along with dental hygienists, Advanced Education in General Dentistry (SEGD) residents, and other staff members including business staff, dental assistants, and a patient coordinator social worker. Perhaps the most unique component of ECU's service-learning model is the addition of fourth-year dental students to each site. About four to six students will be working at each center at a given time. Through this model, the faculty members will be able to treat patients while mentoring their dental students.

"The model of putting students out in the community is not necessarily new, but we are looking at putting our students out in the service-learning centers for three, nine-week rotations," said Dr. Gregory Chadwick, Interim Dean of the School of Dental Medicine and associate dean for planning and extramural affairs. "The length of time our students will be out in the communities is a new concept."

The centers will contain state-of-the-art video technology in conference rooms and student study areas. Additionally, the centers will be electronically connected to the School of Dental Medicine in Greenville for education and patient care activities through programs such as Teledentistry. This program uses information technology and telecommunication for dental care, consultation, education, and public awareness.

Chadwick used a special analogy to describe how the service-learning centers will operate in the communities.

"What we are really doing is taking the fourth floor of the dental school, cutting it into 10 pieces, wiring it, stretching the wires, and putting them out into the rural areas of the state," he said. This model provides an excellent, innovative learning environment for the dental students, Chadwick said.

"The important thing for the students is that they are not going to get all of their education within the four walls of the dental school here in Greenville and just learn about what it might be like out in Ahoskie, Elizabeth City, Lillington, Sylva, and the other center sites," said Chadwick. "They will actually be going out and working in those communities. Not only will they see the patients who come to the centers, but they will also have the opportunity to go out and promote oral health."

Chadwick emphasized that the service-learning centers are an important component of the School of Dental Medicine back in Greenville, and as a result, each center will always remain connected to the dental school.

"The students are not going to lose the opportunity to be connected to the dental school because they will be able to communicate electronically and through video conferencing," he said. "They'll have consultations. They'll be working with our faculty back here, as well."

Also, Chadwick said, the service-learning center model provides a wonderful environment for students to work in the business office of the practices, which is an experience that many students never have an opportunity to do before they graduate. They will learn how to make appointments, fill out Medicaid claims, and see the actual economics of a dental practice.

According to Chadwick, the state's dental care needs are apparent. North Carolina is the fifth fastest growing state in the country. The state is growing from about 8.2 million to about 12.2 million people over the first 30 years of this century.

"When you look at the number of dentists per population, the average is about 4.4 in the state. When you look at the urban areas, we have about 4.9 dentists per 10,000. Nationally, it is six dentists per 10,000," said Chadwick. "When you boil all of these statistics down, it shows that North Carolina is 47th in the nation in number of dentists per population numbers."

Chadwick also said when dividing the state into the 15 urban counties and 85 rural counties, the statistics are also telling.

"You really begin to see a difference with the numbers because the rural areas average roughly three dentists per 10,000 people," he said. "This is also coupled with the fact that a third of our dentists today are 55 years of age and older, with an average of 58 years of age in the rural areas."

According to Chadwick, the service-learning centers are especially crucial because not only do tremendous dental health care needs exist now, but they will continue to increase in the future.

"These service-learning centers will mean so much to the people who live in these rural communities because we are going to be providing access to the dental care they do not currently have access to," he said. "Our primary patient population will be Medicaid patients. We will also see sliding scale patients. On the lower end of that sliding scale may be patients who don't have any funds. Our overall goal is to serve those underserved populations in the rural communities."

Another major component of the service learning centers is the collaboration and partnership the School of Dental Medicine has within these communities. In fact, Chadwick said, collaboration and partnerships are at the very core of the service-learning centers.

When the School of Dental Medicine looks at areas to choose for a service-learning center, they consider the demographics and pinpoint the places that demonstrate tremendous need. Then, Chadwick said, the school establishes partnerships in the community.

"We first make sure that the folks who are living in those communities are aware that there is a dental need and that they want us," said Chadwick. "Also, as we develop those partnerships, we don't have the funding to buy the land, so part of that agreement is either through the county or partner or some other entity to be able to bring forth land where we can construct the center."

The service-learning centers will also work very closely with the primary care providers in the communities.

"Since many of the dental patients in these communities may not have seen a physician or a dentist in a number of years, it will be instrumental to have a primary medical care partner we can work with to take care of all medical needs," he said. " If a patient comes in with an abscess tooth, he may need drainage or an extraction. But if the patient is also diabetic and has other medical problems, having a primary care partner right there to be able to handle all of those issues is extremely important."

With the construction of ECU's School of Dental Medicine and the placement of its 10 service-learning centers across the entire state, the university is well on the way to making a major impact on dental health in North Carolina.

And, according to Chadwick, the dental school’s mission is to improve the state's dental health by advocating oral health promotion.

"It's all about being out in the communities having these conversation with people about oral health and its relation to their general health overall," he said. "And when we have 10 service learning centers in these communities with faculty, residents, students, and staff, it's going to be much easier to carry on this dialogue about preventative dental care."

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.