Mar 292013

Thirty percent of Pitt and Martin county children are born into families living in poverty, a disadvantage shown to immediately increase their risk for long-term educational and health challenges.

The good news is that proper care and attention given to children during infancy and toddlerhood has been proven to help transcend the circumstances they’re born into. And these children have advocates in the ECU Division of Health Sciences.

One advocate is Dr. Tom Irons, associate vice chancellor for health sciences and professor of pediatrics in the Brody School of Medicine. Irons has dedicated his career to helping children born into poverty meet their developmental milestones so they can start their primary education on equal footing with their peers.

On March 22, Irons was the keynote speaker at the State of the Young Child Breakfast, co-hosted by the United Way of Pitt County and the Martin-Pitt Partnership for Children.

“It is important to provide children with a safe, nurturing and stimulating environment during this critical time in their lives,” he told the crowd. “The child that develops in a healthy environment has a brain that is hardwired for success.”

The event also included a panel discussion featuring Abigail Jewkes, associate professor of child development and family relations at ECU, Pitt County Schools Superintendent Beverly Emory and N.C. Rep. Brian Brown.

The panel encouraged investment in early childhood development and reinforced Irons’ message that children who receive adequate early care “have the best possible chance for a successful career in school and, ultimately, as a contributor to society.”

Irons and his career exemplify the central mission of the ECU Division of Health Sciences: We are committed to serving and improving the health of the citizens of Eastern North Carolina. That’s something that happens one patient at a time, and what better place to start than our children?

Read more about Irons and his dedication to improving health care access for North Carolina patients who need it most.   


Mar 192013

On March 20, second-year dental students from the ECU School of Dental Medicine will participate in a health fair for boys who attend South Central High School in Winterville. One of the most important topics that the dental students will discuss is the use of mouth guards to protect the teeth, lips, tongue, face and jaw.

But mouth guards aren’t just for boys. Girls should consider wearing mouth guards when engaged in soccer, basketball, softball, volleyball, or other contact sports. Girls and boys alike are cheerleaders and gymnasts; these activities can also lead to mouth and teeth injuries.

The American Dental Association (ADA) says, “When it comes to protecting your mouth, a mouth guard is an essential piece of athletic gear that should be part of your standard equipment from an early age. In fact, studies show that athletes are 60 times more likely to suffer harm to the teeth if they’re not wearing a mouth guard. While collision and contact sports, such as boxing, are higher-risk sports for the mouth, you can experience a dental injury in non-contact activities too, such as gymnastics and skating.”

Don’t make the mistake of automatically thinking you cannot afford a mouth guard. While the ADA recommends having a custom made mouth guard for best fit, there are stock and boil and bite style mouth guards that can be purchased very reasonably from sporting goods and drug stores. The fit may not be as perfect with these, but some protection will still be in place and can save pain and dental visits.

 A properly fitted mouth guard is especially important for those who wear dental braces or other fixed orthodontic appliances. A mouth guard provides a barrier between the braces and soft tissues of the cheeks and lips. A serious blow to the mouth of someone wearing braces is not only extremely painful but can mean costly unscheduled trips back to the orthodontist.

 The ADA’s website is a great place to learn more about mouth guards. Visit ADA.

 As we all know, Greenville is a big sports town! If you or someone in your family is involved in sports, add a mouth guard to your list of protective gear and stay in the  “safety zone.”

Feb 122013

Kids of all ages agree: candy is the best part about Valentine’s Day.

Believe it or not, even dentists eat candy and other sweet treats on occasion. In fact, we’d argue that the ability to enjoy candy hearts each February is one of the sweetest incentives to maintaining good oral health. Go ahead – tell your kids we said so!

While you’re at it, you might check out the fun, free resources available to you all month long, through the American Dental Association’s National Children’s Dental Health Month. Every February, ADA sponsors the month to raise national awareness around oral health best practices for youth – a message that ECU School of Dental Medicine faculty and students would like to deliver to North Carolina’s many underserved dental patients. So while National Children’s Dental Health Month gives us yet another reason to love February, you might say it’s an occasion we at ECU commemorate year-round.

We want to inform kids (and grown-ups!) about dental care best practices that allow them to both continue eating the foods they love, and safeguard against a variety of health problems. And ever since we opened our doors in the fall of 2011, improving access to patient care has been our goal.

The path to better oral health in North Carolina starts with our kids. When we teach our children to care for their teeth at an early age, they’ll reap the benefits for a lifetime. Today, that cavity-free kid who remembers to brush twice a day can still enjoy a few candy hearts.  And down the road, the grown-up version of the same child will remember that flossing is part of the overall regimen in preventing heart disease.

Read more about how the School of Dental Medicine’s service-based curriculum delivers dental care to North Carolina kids and grown-ups who need it most:

Jan 242013

There’s no way around it: America’s got a weight problem. Politicians, public health officials and even Paula Deen are constantly warning against the dangers posed by our expanding waist lines. For the scores of Americans who have heeded the call to get in shape, lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle, long-term support and accountability are vital. And, according to researchers, cataloguing your diet via social media can be an effective way to get there.

In a study conducted at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Medicine, participants who regularly used Twitter to communicate with others about their weight loss efforts lost more weight than those who did not.

We know a personal support system can be one of the most important factors in achieving long-term success. Posting updates to Twitter expands your accountability network from your spouse and close friends to the thousands of Americans who support the desire to get healthy – and more accountability can mean more motivation to succeed.

Ready to tweet? Here are a few tips for maximizing Twitter’s impact as a crowd-sourced weight loss coach.

Just put it out there: It may seem scary at first, but a simple post declaring your fitness goals can connect you with fellow tweeters who are fighting the same battle. Establishing this connection early on fosters dialogue around being accountable and sharing tips. Plus, there’s the obvious social implication: no one wants to fail in front of their peers!

Search for inspiration: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. People who have successfully met their fitness goals are usually quick to offer tips for others. Browse fitness-related hashtags and insert yourself into ongoing conversations.  What worked for others? How can I implement some of their tips into my routine?

Maintaining a diet and exercise routine can be a struggle. Twitter provides a free, no-judgment forum to vent, share and learn from the thousands of others who’ve been there. And who knows? Your tweets might inspire others to pursue their health and fitness goals.

Jan 142013

It’s no news to us: North Carolina children need better dental care.

This week, the News & Observer and Charlotte Observer reported new findings that shed light on the deteriorating state of oral health in North Carolina – particularly as they impact our youth. According to a Pew Charitable Trusts’ Dental Campaign study, North Carolina ranks in the bottom five states in the country for school-based dental sealant programs, which have been shown to guard against tooth decay among at-risk youth.

Particularly in low-income areas, sealants are a cost-effective option for preventing tooth decay and cavities. But the growing demand for procedures like sealants – a cost-efficient, one-time measure to protect cavity-prone teeth from harmful bacteria and food particles – points to a much larger problem: A one-time fix is no replacement for regular dental care, especially as it relates to overall oral health. These days, North Carolinians are struggling to get either.

North Carolina’s health stands at a critical moment. Poor dental care leads to poor overall health, and with new studies like this surfacing each year, the problem is worsening. That’s why we need more dentists to serve underserved NC patients – from childhood to retirement. And that’s exactly what the ECU School of Dental Medicine has based its curriculum around.

The need for increased access to dental care is particularly great in rural, underserved areas across the state. From the mountains to the coast, the number of dentists in North Carolina is not keeping pace with the state’s population boom. In fact, North Carolina ranks 47 out of 50 states in dentist-to-population ratio.

The ECU School of Dental Medicine is facing this problem head-on by training students who are committed to working and living in underserved areas across the state after graduating. Over the course of their four-year education at ECU, students will provide care to in-need patients across the state as part of their training. The school has already opened one of ten planned Community Service Learning Centers designed to train and prepare students in the types of underserved communities they’ll live and work in.

The best part? Every student trained means several patients treated. A win-win for North Carolina’s oral health. Our goal is to improve access to care, one patient at a time, in the communities that need us most. One day, that’ll mean less sealants – and more healthy smiles for all.

Read more about ECU’s service-based curriculum and the Community Service Learning Centers here.