ECU’s role in solving North Carolina’s oral health problems

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.