As planning continues on a proposed dental school at East Carolina University, the drills keep humming in the long-established dental clinic in the Family Medicine Center at Brody School of Medicine.
ECU nursing faculty member Iona Poston has been a patient at the clinic for 15 years.
“I would, and have, recommended the ECU dental clinic to others and will continue to do so,” said Poston, who was recently fitted for a partial denture. She gets routine cleanings every six months and X-rays and fillings as needed.
Prior to joining the faculty at ECU, Poston was a doctoral student at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla.
“Money was tight, so I went to the UF dental school clinic. I got wonderful service there at a reasonable price.”
|Dr. Omar Paredes, director of the dental residency program and outpatient clinic in the Brody School of Medicine, examines the teeth of patient Iona Poston, faculty member in the School of Nursing. The clinic helps to meet the region’s tremendous need for quality dental care. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)
Poston said she sought out the dental clinic at ECU for the same reasons.
Last year, Dr. Omar Paredes came on board as the first full-time director of the dental residency program and outpatient clinic. He coordinates the education of three dental residents each year while also caring for patients. Dr. Brian Muzyka was hired in May as the dental hospitalist. He provides oral care to Pitt County Memorial Hospital patients scheduled for surgery or undergoing cancer treatment. There is a full-time dental hygienist and two certified dental assistants in the clinic.
The clinic provides comprehensive dental services including preventative care, whitening, bonding, implants and invisible orthodontics. The clinic serves adults and children, in-hospital and private patients, like Poston, and is always accepting new patients, Paredes said.
Paredes, who is fluent in Spanish, is a graduate of the National University of Honduras, where he served nine years as professor of restorative dentistry. He completed residency at Louisiana State University. Muzyka and three dental residents were displaced from New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina flooded their dental school last year. The group came to work temporarily with Paredes at ECU. The residents returned to New Orleans, but Muzyka liked the area so much that he wanted to stay and become part of the growing dental program.
Paredes and Muzyka see similarities between eastern North Carolina and rural Louisiana.
“There is a huge need for dental care in this part of the state,” Paredes said.
North Carolina ranks 47th in the nation in dentists per capita, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Additionally, there is an imbalance in distribution ratio. Urban areas average 4.7 dentists per 10,000 residents, whereas rural areas average 3.1 dentists per 10,000 residents. Four counties in eastern North Carolina don’t have a practicing dentist, three counties have one and 28 counties have two dentists. Many residents fall within the target population for the ECU clinic, which often cares for medically-complex patients.
The clinic is poised for growth. Paredes hopes to expand the number of residents who train at the clinic each year. Legislators and Gov. Mike Easley recently approved $7 million in planning funds for a proposed new dental school at ECU and expansion of the current dental school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. ECU would follow the model of the Brody School of Medicine in recruiting and training students who want to live and work in rural areas. The proposal also calls for the establishment of several dental clinics around the state where students and faculty would see patients in underserved areas.
Paredes supports a new dental school.
“It comes back to this, are we at the moment giving adequate health care to all the populations in the state? I believe as a school we have a call to do so. The way we can embrace this mission is to expand. I believe the model we are proposing is a feasible one.”
Paredes hopes to expand the clinic’s physical space as well.
“We are blessed because the school of medicine is supporting us and they are committed to closing that loop of health care with dentistry,” Paredes said.
Several community dentists help train ECU’s dental residents. They include Drs. William Cox, Donald Hardee, Mark Johnson, Patrick Johnson, Jasper Lewis, Anthony Murray, Richard Salzer and Karen Shaw and dental technician Whit Miller. Each has their own expertise to share with dental residents, Paredes said.
The dental clinic is located in the Family Medicine Center at the Brody School of Medicine, 600 Moye Blvd., Greenville. Call 744-4618 for an appointment. Hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.