Local and ECU officials, including School of Dental Medicine Dean Dr. Greg Chadwick and Chancellor Steve Ballard, cut the ribbon on the new dental center that opened June 27 in Sylva. More details about the new dental community service learning center are available below. (Photo by Jay Clark)
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Sylva town council members Danny Allen, left, and Barbara Hamilton tour the new facility.

ECU dental center opens in Sylva

With the opening of each dental community service learning center, ECU is “changing the trajectory of oral health care in North Carolina.”

That was the message delivered by School of Dental Medicine Dean Dr. Greg Chadwick as ECU administrators and Jackson County officials celebrated the opening of the university’s newest center June 27 in the mountain town of Sylva.

“This dream is important, I think, for everyone in this region,” Chancellor Steve Ballard told attendees at the ribbon-cutting. “You really made it possible to get this beautiful site. Thanks for being a part of a mission we take very seriously.”

Eight to 10 centers are planned for underserved areas of North Carolina. Four centers are now operating and “all are becoming very busy places,” Chadwick said.

The facilities combine clinical education and patient care. Led by ECU dental faculty members, fourth-year students are receiving clinical training at the centers while general dentistry residents also hone their skills at the facilities. The general dentistry centers feature treatment rooms, X-ray equipment, educational space and more.

“Our school is a statewide resource with a statewide footprint,” Chadwick said. “These centers are an integral part of our dental school.”

Local officials said there is a great need for access to dental care in Jackson County.

“Oral health is very important, and for many folks it goes unmet, undone,” said Paula Carden, director of the Jackson County Health Department. “This great facility is going to lower the burden on our emergency rooms.”

Carden said Jackson County has one dentist for every 2,748 people, while the national average is one dentist per 1,493 people. And some of the dentists practicing in the area are getting “long in the tooth,” she quipped.

“The school of dentistry from East Carolina is going to give western North Carolina its smile back,” Carden said.

Jackson County Commissioner Charles Elders welcomed the first four students on rotation in the Sylva center and said he hopes the experience will yield more dentists for underserved areas.

“Our hope is that when you graduate…you will choose a rural community just like you’re in today,” he said. “You will find our citizens to be courteous, welcoming, supportive and just good neighbors.”

ECU dental community service learning centers are also serving patients in Ahoskie, Elizabeth City and Lillington. Other centers are under construction or planned in Spruce Pine, Davidson County, Robeson County and Brunswick County.

The Brunswick County site, which is on U.S. 17 beside the Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center, was announced May 16 during a press conference in Bolivia.

Construction was scheduled to begin late this summer with the goal of opening the center to patients and students next summer.

— Kathryn Kennedy
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