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Dental school opens community clinic

 From the Greenville Daily Reflector:


Dental school opens community clinic

AHOSKIE — A new way of teaching dentistry and delivering dental care is coming to eastern North Carolina with the opening of the first ECU School of Dental Medicine Community Service Learning Center.

East Carolina University and local officials cut the ribbon on the $3 million, 8,000 square-foot center on Thursday. 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. “I think for 105 years, ECU has put service first.”

ECU dental faculty members, dental residents and students will provide care for area residents at the learning center. 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 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.

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 is expected to open later this year

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 eventually will be 10 such centers across the state. The other sites identified are Elizabeth City, Lillington in central North Carolina, Davidson County in the Triad, and Sylva and Spruce Pine in the western part of the state.

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.

In urban areas of the state, the ratio is nearly five dentists for every 10,000 people.

Three counties, all in the northeast — Tyrrell, Hyde and Camden — have no dentists.

Nationally, the ratio is six dentists for every 10,000 people.

Kim Schwartz, Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center chief executive, 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.”

Schwartz 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.

For more information about the community service learning center or to inquire about dental services there, call 332-1904.