Dr. Daniel Conti, a resident in the advanced education in general dentistry program at the ECU School of Dental Medicine, attends a conversation with other residents and faculty at the school's community service learning centers across the state. A newly awarded USDA grant will help the school purchase telemedicine technology for three more centers under construction in rural and underserved areas. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)


USDA awards technology grant to ECU dental service learning centers

April 29, 2014

By Kathryn Kennedy
ECU News Services

A $451,955 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development division will fund crucial technology at three East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine community service learning centers across the state.

Eight to 10 community service learning centers are planned for operation in underserved areas in North Carolina. Led by ECU dental faculty members, the facilities provide clinical education for fourth-year students and residents as well as dental care for children and adults.

The grant will fund the purchase of audio-visual technology at the learning centers and supporting infrastructure at Ledyard E. Ross Hall, the school’s teaching hub on ECU’s health sciences campus.

Students and residents at the centers stay connected to the teaching program at ECU by using a video teleconferencing system to attend lectures, seminars and consultations with specialists. Teleconferencing also allows for remote patient consultation and diagnosis and continuing education for dental faculty and area dentists.

“These technologies have becomes part of our everyday culture and are changing the way that we define successful education and clinical care,” said Todd Watkins, assistant dean for dental education and informatics at the School of Dental Medicine. “This grant will have a direct role in providing access to dental care to rural North Carolina and training tomorrow’s dentists as part of the ECU service-learning model.”

Centers are already serving patients in Ahoskie, Elizabeth City and Lillington, with another center opening this summer in Sylva. Others are under construction in Spruce Pine, Davidson County and Robeson County. Each provides dental care to Medicaid enrollees and other members of the community who lack regular care.

“The new grant is essential to our mission and could not have come at a better time as we prepare to open three more centers this year,” said Greg Chadwick, dean of the School of Dental Medicine.

"The grant enhances our capacity to provide dental services to the citizens of rural areas through the service learning centers as well as supporting the education of dental students and residents,” said Dr. Phyllis Horns, vice chancellor for health sciences at ECU.

ECU admitted its first class of 52 dental students in 2011. A third class of 52 started in August. All students are North Carolina residents. Goals of the school are to improve access to dental care, to educate students from underserved and underrepresented populations, and to graduate dentists who have a desire to practice in underserved areas.