Dental School Funds Approved
By Doug Boyd
The proposed dental school at East Carolina University will receive $25 million in the budget agreement Gov. Mike Easley signed July 31.
The money will be used for initial design and construction costs, ECU officials said.
“We are delighted that the General Assembly shares our enthusiasm for improving oral health throughout the entire state of North Carolina,” said ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard. “We look forward to enrolling the first students in the dental school no later than 2011.”
ECU trustees also approved the selection of the architectural firm BJAC of Raleigh to design the school.
The budget also includes $2.5 million to help pay for the care of indigent patients at the Brody School of Medicine at ECU and $100,000 for the ECU Auditory Learning Center.
The funds for the dental school follow years of work by ECU officials aimed at improving dental care in the state. A document developed by ECU and UNC-Chapel Hill, “The Plan for Dentistry in North Carolina,” calls for expansion of the dental school at Chapel Hill along with increased educational space and research facilities as well as consideration of the new school at ECU. The UNC Board of Governors unanimously endorsed the plan in April 2006. The new budget also includes $25 million for the dental school at UNC.
With the funding, construction on the new school near the Health Sciences Building could begin next year, and the first class will enroll by 2011, officials said. As part of the Plan for Dentistry, ECU will enroll 50 students with each class, while Carolina will expand its class size to 100.
ECU will have nearly 70 dental faculty members plus staff and other support workers, said Dr. Gregory Chadwick, interim dean of the dental school. Also at the school will be 30 pediatric and general dentistry residents.
Students will practice not just at ECU but also in eight to 10 “service learning centers,” or dental clinics across the state, with at least one being in western North Carolina.
“They’ll be more than rural clinics,” Chadwick said. “They’ll be part of the senior year of our dental school. We’ll be looking where there are no dentists, where there are patients, where there are patients covered by Medicaid.”
Sixty to 70 percent of the population has good dental care, Chadwick said, despite the fact that North Carolina ranks 47th out of the 50 states in the number of dentists per capita.
Many people without good dental care live in rural areas, where North Carolina has three dentists for every 10,000 people, Chadwick said. That compares to urban areas of the state, where the ratio is nearly five to 10,000. Nationally, the ratio is six dentists for every 10,000 people.
Four counties, all in the northeast, have no dentists: Gates, Tyrrell, Hyde and Camden.
“There is unquestionably a shortage of dentists and, more importantly, a maldistribution of dentists,” Chadwick said.
In addition, only 13 percent of dentists are minorities, compared to 34 percent of North Carolinians. Educating minority dentists, Chadwick said, is “one of the things we’ll focus on.”
Improving access to dental care is especially important in areas such as eastern North Carolina where access to all medical care is spotty, and research shows oral health has a direct impact on overall health.
Altogether, officials project building the new dental school at ECU will cost approximately $87 million.