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Photo by Cliff Hollis/ECU News ServicesECU and Albemarle Regional Health Services officials cut the ribbon at the official opening of the ECU School of Dental Medicine's community service learning center in Elizabeth City.

Photo by Cliff Hollis/ECU News Services ECU and Albemarle Regional Health Services officials cut the ribbon at the official opening of the ECU School of Dental Medicine’s community service learning center in Elizabeth City.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

 

ELIZABETH CITY — The East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine opened its second community service learning center in the state in Elizabeth City on Monday.

Officials cut the ribbon on the $3 million, 7,700-square-foot facility at 1161 North Road St. with more than 150 people attending.

ECU dental faculty members, dental residents and students will provide care for area citizens. Students and dental residents also will learn what practicing in a community setting is like.

Jerry Parks, health director for Albemarle Regional Health Services, challenged the dental students.

“I want to put you on notice to your importance to this community,” he said. “If eyes are the window to the soul, then oral health is a window to the health of the community.”

First-year ECU dental student Makani Dollinger of Hatteras has assisted Dr. Mead Slagle of Frisco, the only dentist on Hatteras Island, where patients from Ocracoke Island take the ferry to Hatteras for dental care. With the route closed due to dredging, a once 30-minute trip now takes 75 minutes one way.

“It’s very obvious there is a need for rural health care,” said Dollinger, who has volunteered at the annual two-day Missions of Mercy health clinic on the Outer Banks, which draws hundreds of patients without regular care. “This clinic is exactly what we need out here.”

Wick Baker, president of Albemarle Health, also spoke of the need for dental care in the region. He said the hospital, which is across the street from the center and provided the site, treats an average of three patients daily who come into the emergency room in need of dental care.

Dr. Phyllis Horns, vice chancellor for health sciences at ECU, said the opening of ECU’s community service learning center personifies ECU’s mission “to serve.”

“We are very excited about joining you in Elizabeth City,” Dr. Greg Chadwick, dean of the ECU School of Dental Medicine, said. “We look forward to being your neighbor. We think this will be a wonderful location for students and residents to live and gain experience practicing dentistry.”

The staff began seeing patients in April at the clinic, which has a main objective to treat patients who do not have a regular dentist. Medicaid and sliding-fee-scale patients are welcome.

The center contains 16 dental chairs and will employ local staff members, including full-time and part-time dental faculty, a business manager, dental assistants, dental hygienists and general dentistry residents. Beginning in the summer of 2014, dental students will gain experience at the center during nine-week rotations.

Patients may receive a variety of services, including general, preventive and emergency dental care, as well as crowns, root canals, bridges and other dental care.

ECU officials hope the center ultimately will help improve dental health in the area while adding an innovative educational aspect to dental school.

Elizabeth City was one of the first sites named for what eventually will be eight to 10 dental centers across the state. The other sites identified are Lillington in central North Carolina, Davidson County in the Triad, and Sylva and Spruce Pine in the western part of the state. The first center opened last year in Ahoskie.

The town is the center of the Elizabeth City Micropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Perquimans and Camden counties. Camden County has no dentists; the average age of the dentists in Perquimans and Pasquotank counties exceeds 55, according to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Overall, North Carolina ranks 47th out of the 50 states in the number of dentists per capita, according to the Sheps Center. The state averages three dentists for every 10,000 people residing in rural areas; it averages nearly five dentists for every 10,000 people residing in urban areas.

Tyrrell, Hyde and Camden counties — all in the northeast — have no dentists. Nationally, the ratio is six dentists for every 10,000 people.

ECU admitted its first class of 52 dental students in 2011. The second class of 52 started last August, and the third class will begin this August. All students are North Carolina residents.

Goals of the school are to improve access to dental care, to educate students from underserved and underrepresented populations, and to graduate dentists who have a desire to practice in underserved areas.

via The Daily Reflector.

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