Healthier Smiles from the Mountains to the Coast

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

Sylva, NC

County: Jackson County
County population: 38,337
Number of dentists: 14 dentists
Median Household income: $41,294

Other info:
• Sylva is located in the Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina.
• Sylva is the county seat of Jackson County.

View images from the community.

Sylva, located in western North Carolina in the Great Smoky Mountains, is the county seat of Jackson County. Well-known for its scenic mountain views, Sylva's tree-lined downtown also boasts many restaurants and shops. At Sylva's Pinnacle Park, people can enjoy mountain hiking trails and watching majestic waterfalls. Children can play at Poteet Park, designed especially by children for children. Additionally, adventurous souls can drive a mere 30 minutes away to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Although a wonderful place to live, like many other rural towns, Sylva does not have enough dental-health resources for its residents. However, thanks to the establishment of one of its community service-learning centers, ECU's School of Dental Medicine is working on improving the dental health of Sylva and the surrounding Jackson County area.

Sylva's service-learning center will be located on County Services Road in the Webster community, the same community where Southwestern Community College resides. The Department of Aging, Department of Social Services, and the Jackson County Rescue Squad are also located in the vicinity.

According to Paula Carden, director of the Jackson County Department of Public Health, the service-learning center is a wonderful new resource for the community.

"Our public health dental clinic cannot meet the demands for dental care because the need is so huge," she said. "The free clinic in Cashiers has a waiting list of more than 500 people from Jackson County and two neighboring counties. We have hosted the Mission of Mercy Dental Clinic three or four times, and people line up for hours to receive these services."

Not only will the service-learning center be a well-needed resource, but it will also help transform the community by raising awareness about the importance of oral health, said Carden.

"This dental facility will provide a tremendous opportunity for people in our region to receive dental care, especially those who have Medicaid or are low income households," she said. "We really want to improve the dental health of our residents and teach them how to care for their teeth."

The service-learning center concept is a new one that the School of Dental Medicine hopes can be used as a model by other regions interested in improving the dental care of their residents.

According to Carden, this model has many benefits for the people who will visit the facility.

"The service-learning center model is unique, and I believe it will help recruit dentists to the western part of North Carolina. The farther west, the less dentists there are," she said. "We are hoping the dental students will come work in this area and fall in love with the culture, the people, and the community and will want to set up their practices here."

Carden also agrees that not only will the community benefit from the service-learning center, but the dental students who work there will benefit, as well.

"It's so important to bring the students here and to let them see a real community - real life," said Carden. "This experience will be invaluable to the students because it is less institutionalized."

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.