With the opening of each dental community service learning center, East Carolina University is “changing the trajectory of oral health care in North Carolina.”
That was the message delivered by School of Dental Medicine Dean Dr. Greg Chadwick as ECU administrators and Jackson County officials celebrated the opening of the university’s newest center, located 50 miles west of Asheville in Sylva.
“This dream is important, I think, for everyone in this region,” ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard told attendees at the ribbon cutting. “You really made it possible to get this beautiful site. Thanks for being a part of a mission we take very seriously.”
Eight to 10 centers are planned for underserved areas of North Carolina. Four centers are now in operation and “all are becoming very busy places,” Chadwick reported.
The facilities combine clinical education and patient care. Led by ECU dental faculty members, fourth-year students are receiving clinical training at the centers 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.
“Our school is a statewide resource with a statewide footprint,” Chadwick said. “These centers are an integral part of our dental school.”
Local officials said there is a great need for dental care in Jackson County.
“Oral health is very important and for many folks it goes unmet, undone,” said Paula Carden, director of the Jackson County Health Department. “This great facility is going to lower the burden on our emergency rooms.”
Carden said Jackson County has one dentist for every 2,748 people, while the national average is one dentist per 1,493 people. And some of the dentists practicing in the area are getting “long in the tooth,” she quipped.
“The School of Dentistry, from East Carolina, is going to give western North Carolina its smile back,” Carden said.
Jackson County Commissioner Charles Elders welcomed the first four students on rotation in the Sylva center and said he hopes the experience will yield more dentists for underserved areas.
“Our hope is that when you graduate…you will choose a rural community, just like you’re in today,” he said. “You will find our citizens to be courteous, welcoming, supportive, and just good neighbors.”
“Jackson County has a great relationship with Chancellor David Belcher and Western Carolina,” Elders added. “We’re pleased to welcome another purple and gold institution.”
ECU dental community service learning centers are already serving patients in Ahoskie, Elizabeth City, Lillington and Sylva. Other centers are under construction in Spruce Pine, Davidson County and Robeson County, and an eighth center will be located in Brunswick County.
The Sylva center is located at 316 County Services Park. Appointments can be scheduled by calling 828-586-1200. Any member of the community – including Medicaid patients – can receive dental care at the centers.