A community service learning center providing expert dental care to patients in and around Robeson County will soon open its doors – the fifth of its kind to open statewide – following a ribbon cutting ceremony Dec. 2.
“We’re putting down roots and really growing the ECU family,” Dr. Greg Chadwick, dean of the School of Dental Medicine, told 150 people gathered on the grounds of the new center Tuesday afternoon. “Partnerships and collaborations in communities…are essential.”
ECU dental students listen to remarks during the opening ceremony.
Remarks at the event consisted of thanks to individuals and organizations who have partnered to improve oral health for their home county. Those include the Robeson County Board of Commissioners, University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Robeson Community College, the Lumbee Tribe, local health care providers and private practice dentists.
“Sometimes we get a little narrow minded and think, ‘Do we need more dentists?’” said Robeson County Health Department Director Bill Smith. “But if you add up all the people being seen by dentists in this county, there are 70,000 that aren’t (being seen).”
“This is a great day for our county,” said Jerry Stephens, vice chair of the Robeson County Board of Commissioners. “When it was first presented to us, it was what we call ‘a no brainer.’ We knew this was a great opportunity for southeastern North Carolina, Lumberton and Robeson County.”
Eight to 10 community service learning centers are planned for underserved areas of North Carolina. Four are now in operation and have seen patients from 71 of the state’s 100 counties, Chadwick reported.
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 fully functional general dentistry centers feature treatment rooms, X-ray equipment, educational space and more.
Dr. Craig Slotke, director of general dentistry for the Robeson County Community Service Learning Center, gives a tour to ECU dental students and parents before the ceremony.
“ECU is well known for its service mission,” said Dr. Phyllis Horns, vice chancellor for health sciences at ECU. “And certainly our community service learning centers allow us…to reach out to the citizens of this state in meaningful ways and improve their quality of life.”
By spending their fourth year of dental school rotating through the statewide service learning centers, each student gets a chance to explore a place that might become their future home.
Second-year student Terrence Campbell knows he wants to work with low income patients, but said hasn’t chosen yet between a rural or an inner-city setting. He expects his fourth-year rotations to help determine that. Regardless, the Raleigh native said he’s proud and determined to practice in North Carolina.
“ECU is a place that creates more dentists from North Carolina and for North Carolina,” Campbell said.
For others, the Robeson County dental center opening was a homecoming.
ECU chief of staff Dr. Chris Locklear, originally from Lumberton, speaks during the opening ceremony.
“This is something that I know the area needs,” said Kasey Oxendine, a third-year student who grew up in Lumberton. “It’s good to see it here but it’s even more exciting to be a part of it – that my university is investing in my community.”
ECU Chief of Staff Chris Locklear, also a native of Robeson County, said he’s thrilled that the state-of-the-art technology and beautiful setting of the service learning center will produce a real impact for the community.
“What I think is most important is that when people leave the doors of that facility we’ll be improving their health and improving the region,” Locklear said. “We appreciate you letting a few Pirates invade the region.”
ECU dental community service learning centers are already serving patients in Ahoskie, Elizabeth City, Lillington and Sylva. Centers in Spruce Pine and Davidson County are set to open this winter and an eighth center is under construction in Brunswick County.
The Robeson County center is located at 600 Country Club Road in Lumberton. Appointments can be scheduled by calling 910-737-6457. Any member of the community – including Medicaid patients – may receive dental care at the centers.
Pictured below, officials from East Carolina University and Robeson County join in the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new dental service learning center in Lumberton.