ECU to provide dental care, train students in Davidson County

East Carolina University’s dental community service learning centers are core to the School of Dental Medicine’s unique educational model – create more dentists for North Carolina while improving access to oral health care in underserved areas.

“The legislature made improved oral health a priority through the founding of the East Carolina School of Dental Medicine,” said Dr. Greg Chadwick, dean of the dental school. “We’re one step closer to that vision today.”

The step he referenced was the completion of a sixth dental service learning center, celebrated with a ribbon cutting Dec. 15 and located in Thomasville on the campus of Davidson County Community College.

“We’re going to do a lot of thank you’s today…but we think that’s very important for us because there are so many people who worked very hard to make today possible,” said Dr. Phyllis Horns, vice chancellor for health sciences at ECU.

Partners in the collaboration included Davidson County Community College, the Davidson County Board of Commissioners, the Davidson County Department of Public Health and local dentists.

In addition, a $500,000 endowed fund announced Monday will further boost efforts to improve access to dental care in Davidson County.

The Edward C. Smith Sr. Patient Care Fund will help “bridge the gap” between the cost of dental procedures and what the patients can pay out-of-pocket at the Davidson clinic. Greenville businessman Eddie Smith Jr., CEO of Grady-White Boats, created the endowment to honor his father, a native of Davidson County.

A separate Patient Care Fund has been established by ECU’s Medical and Health Sciences Foundation to help assist patients across the centers.

Eight to 10 community service learning centers are planned for underserved areas of North Carolina. Four are now in operation and have seen patients from at least 71 of the state’s 100 counties, Chadwick reported.

The facilities combine clinical education and patient care. Fourth-year students are receiving clinical training at the centers from ECU dental faculty while general dentistry residents also hone their skills at the facilities. The fully functional general dentistry centers feature treatment rooms, X-ray equipment, educational space and more.

Horns noted that ensuring students “really understand the needs in rural communities” is key to the dental school mission.

Monecia Thomas, director of the Davidson County Department of Public Health, said that access and cost can be barriers to care. “Not everyone in our community has the same access to good health care and the opportunity to make healthy choices,” she said.

Davidson County Community College President Dr. Mary Rittling praised ECU for partnering with her college and the community.

“(ECU) had a dream. They had a vision. And they recognized that the citizens in our county needed assistance,” she said. “Working together, working as a community – that’s why that clinic is here today.”

ECU dental community service learning centers are already serving patients in Ahoskie, Elizabeth City, Lillington and Sylva. Centers in Spruce Pine and Robeson County are also set to open this winter, and an eighth center is under construction in Brunswick County.

The Davidson County center is located on the campus of Davidson County Community College at 1235 Davidson Community College Road in Thomasville. Appointments can be scheduled by calling 336-236-0165.

Any member of the community – including Medicaid patients – may receive dental care at the centers. The Davidson County center is scheduled to begin accepting patients in February.

By Kathryn Kennedy
ECU News Services
Dec. 15, 2014