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Dr. Michael Scholtz, director of community dental practice and assistant dean for extramural affairs for the East Carolina University Dental Medical School in Greenville, shows off one of the treatment rooms in the new ECU Dental Clinic in Elizabeth City, Monday. ECU dental school officials celebrated the $3 million clinic's grand opening Monday.

Dr. Michael Scholtz, director of community dental practice and assistant dean for extramural affairs for the East Carolina University Dental Medical School in Greenville, shows off one of the treatment rooms in the new ECU Dental Clinic in Elizabeth City, Monday. ECU dental school officials celebrated the $3 million clinic’s grand opening Monday.

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By William F. West

The Daily Advance

Monday, June 10, 2013

When David Klucznik’s family moved to Moyock when he was in the seventh-grade, one of the things he noticed was the lack of dentist offices.

“When I first moved to Currituck, there wasn’t a dentist in town,” Klucznik said.

Klucznik didn’t forget that. The lack of dentists in northeastern North Carolina is part of the reason he chose to study dentistry when he grew up and attended East Carolina University. It’s also why he’s looking forward to working at the new ECU Dental Clinic in Elizabeth City, which officially opened on Monday.

Providing a hands-on innovative facility where students like Klucznik can study dentistry is one of the reasons why ECU decided to build the $3 million, 7,700-square-foot facility on North Road Street across from Albemarle Hospital. The other reason is the large number of Elizabeth City-area residents currently going without dental care because there aren’t enough dentists to serve them.

ECU Dental Medicine School Dean Greg Chadwick mentioned both goals in his remarks at a ceremony Monday celebrating the clinic’s opening.

“We’re excited about joining you in Elizabeth City and look forward to providing dental education opportunities for our students and our residents and providing care for the residents of Pasquotank and surrounding counties,” Chadwick told the crowd of approximately 150 who gathered under a tent in front of the facility.

The dental clinic in Elizabeth City in fact is one of a group of dental facilities ECU plans to build to serve rural areas of the state. One clinic opened in Ahoskie last year and two others are under construction in Lillington and Silva. Construction on two others will soon get under way in Lexington and Spruce Pine, and ECU is currently studying building a seventh in the Lumberton area.

The reason the clinics are needed, ECU officials say, is the state’s dearth of dentists. Although North Carolina is the nation’s fifth-fastest growing state, it ranks 47th in dentists per capita. In addition, 27 of the state’s 100 counties are served by two dentists or fewer per 10,000 people. Moreover, one third of the dentists practicing today are age 55 or over.

The ECU Dental Clinic in Elizabeth City will employ three full-time dentists, two dental hygienists, three dental assistants and four front-office staffers, including the office manager. Anywhere from four to five ECU dental students are expected to begin work at the clinic approximately a year from now.

Prior to Monday’s ceremony, Dr. Mike Scholtz, ECU’s director of community dental practice and assistant dean for extramural affairs, gave reporters a tour of the clinic. He pointed out that the clinic features a $100,000 three-dimension X-ray machine, which can be used for implant placement. The clinic also features a microscope-like camera, costing more than $50,000, that provides detailed images of small areas inside a patient’s mouth that can be shared with dental experts at ECU in Greenville, Sholtz said.

The clinic, which opened in April, is currently treating about 20 patients a day.

During Monday afternoon’s ceremony, Chadwick thanked numerous citizens, leaders and officials, including former state Reps. Bill Owens of Pasquotank County and Arthur Williams of Beaufort County.

Chadwick thanked Phil Donahue, who will be retiring as vice president of Albemarle Hospital Foundation and Community Outreach, Albemarle Regional Health Services Director Jerry Parks and interim Pasquotank County Manager Rodney Bunch.

Chairman Jeff Dixon recalled how it was a “no-brainer” for the Pasquotank Board of Commissioners to transfer what was then a vacant, unused lot to the state for $1.

“I can’t think of a better fit,” he said. “We’ve got a wonderful hospital across the street. Now we have a wonderful dental, community-based clinic right across from it.”

Albemarle Health President Wick Baker said the dental clinic will help Albemarle Hospital provide services to patients with dental needs. Currently, the hospital’s emergency room staff sees more than 1,000 patients a year who need dental services.

Baker said he is confident that the clinic will help improve the community’s dental health.

“And when dental health improves, as we all know, our overall health improves as well,” he said.

Parks particularly thanked Raleigh-based Fuquay Solutions, formerly known as Cansler/Fuquay Consulting, for helping provide the supporting data on dental need that convinced naysayers that northeastern North Carolina needed a dental clinic like the one ECU built.

“You are unsung heroes,” he said.

Park also singled out the dental students like Klucznik on hand for Monday’s ceremony.

“If the eyes are the windows to our soul, I think you’ll agree that oral health is a window into the health and well-being of the community,” he said. “And we want to see bright smiles on everybody in this community. I know that you can do it.”

The ECU Dental Clinic in Elizabeth City is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and can be reached by phone at (252) 331-7225 or at (252) 331-7226.

Contact Bill West at bwest@dailyadvance.com

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