(June 29, 2012)
A new way of teaching dental medicine and delivering dental care took a big step Thursday with the opening of the first East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine Community Service Learning Center in Ahoskie.
University and local officials cut the ribbon on the $3 million, 8,000-square-foot center late this afternoon.
ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard said the center fulfills the commitment the university and dental school made to provide care in underserved areas.
"Not every university puts service first," Ballard said to a crowd of more than 100 gathered for the event on a warm, windy day. "I think for 105 years, ECU has put service first."
At the center, ECU dental faculty members, dental residents and students will provide care for area citizens. Meanwhile, students and residents will learn what practicing in a community setting is like.
The center has 16 dental chairs and will employ local staff members, including 1.5 full-time dental faculty positions, a business manager, five to six dental assistants, two to three dental hygienists and two general dentistry residents. Four to five students will be at the center for nine-week rotations.
At the center, patients may receive a variety of services, including general, preventive and emergency dental care as well as crowns, root canals and bridges.
The center will begin seeing patients in early July. It is built next to the Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center, which provides primary care to low-income adults and children and should open later this year.
ECU hopes the dental center will help improve the status of dental health in the area while adding an innovative educational aspect to dental school.
"We are not only providing much-needed care, but we are also educating our future dentists in areas similar to where we hope they will practice," Chadwick said. "This marks the first time we’ve co-located a dental school facility and a federally qualified health care center together. We are very excited about our partnership with Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center and look forward to providing quality dental care to residents of Hertford, Bertie, Northampton, Gates and surrounding counties."
Ahoskie, a town of 5,000 near the Chowan and Meherrin rivers in northeastern North Carolina, was one of the first sites named for what will eventually be 10 such centers across the state. The other sites identified so far are Elizabeth City in northeastern North Carolina, Lillington in central North Carolina, Davidson County in the Triad, and Sylva and Spruce Pine in the western part of the state. Ahoskie is approximately 60 miles from ECU's Greenville campus.
Ahoskie and surrounding counties have fewer than 10 dentists. Overall, North Carolina ranks 47th out of the 50 states in the number of dentists per capita, according to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Many people without good dental care live in rural areas, where North Carolina averages three dentists for every 10,000 people. That compares to urban areas of the state, where the ratio is nearly five dentists for every 10,000 people. Three counties, all in the northeast, have no dentists: Tyrrell, Hyde and Camden.
Nationally, the ratio is six dentists for every 10,000 people.
Kim Schwartz, chief executive of RCCHC, said the need for dental care is great among the area's low-income people.
"They either pull their own teeth out (and) don't recognize the early dental needs for their children," she said. "It's a perpetual cycle." She also said the location of the dental and health center near Vidant Health wellness and behavioral health centers is beneficial.
She and leaders of the Roanoke-Chowan Foundation also announced a grant of $83,125 to help pay for dental care for the health center's sliding-fee-scale patients at the ECU center.
Officials also hope the center will help attract new dentists to a community where most dentists are at or near retirement age. Dr. Terry Hall said he came back to his hometown of Ahoskie more than two decades ago to practice dentistry.
"I'm back to being the youngest dentist in the county after 26 years," he said.
ECU admitted its first class of 52 dental students in 2011. Goals of the school are to improve access to dental care, to educate minority students and to produce dentists who have a desire to practice in underserved areas. The second class of 52 will start in August. All are North Carolina residents, and the school focuses on recruiting students from rural areas who want to return to those areas to practice.
ECU dental student Mark Dobransky is from Bertie County, next door to Ahoskie's Hertford County. He said the school's mission is to serve in rural towns. "It's nice to see a tangible feature in the community," he said of the center. "I know everyone in the school is excited."
The ECU and RCCHC facilities are built on land deeded to RCCHC and the university by Roanoke-Chowan Alliance.
For more information about the dental center or to inquire about dental services there, call 252-332-1904.