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Greenville, N.C.—Opportunities for clinical education continue to grow for one of the nation’s newest dental schools.

The East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine opened its first Community Service Learning Center in Ahoskie, N.C., June 28. Weeks earlier, ECU announced plans for another community service learning center in Thomasville, N.C., which would be the sixth center added since the dental school began in 2008.

Image: Practice: ECU dental student Kelly Walsh (left) tries out a dental chair at the new ECU dental Community Service Learning Center in Ahoskie, with fellow students Isaac Morton and Bridgette Jones.
Practice: ECU dental student Kelly Walsh (left) tries out a dental chair at the new ECU dental Community Service Learning Center in Ahoskie, with fellow students Isaac Morton and Bridgette Jones. Photo by Jay Clark

The school plans to build 10 centers across the state, with the goal of having fourth-year dental students and dental residents staff the centers, hone their patient care techniques and learn how to operate a community practice under the supervision of faculty.

One of the few public universities to open a dental school in recent years, ECU admitted its first class of 52 dental students in the fall of 2011. All are North Carolina residents. The goals of the school, according to ECU officials, are to improve access to dental care, educate minority dentists and produce dentists who have a desire to practice in underserved areas.

The Ahoskie center has 16 dental chairs and will employ 1.5 full-time dental faculty, in addition to other staff. The center was built next to the Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center, which provides primary care to low-income adults and children.

“We are not only providing much-needed care, but we are also educating our future dentists in areas similar to where we hope they will practice,” said Dr. Gregory Chadwick, interim dean of the ECU School of Dental Medicine and a past ADA president (2001-02). “This marks the first time we’ve co-located a dental school facility and a federally qualified health care center together.”

ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard said the centers fulfill the commitment the university and dental school made to provide care in underserved areas. Ahoskie and surrounding counties have fewer than 10 dentists, and Davidson County has fewer than 2.6 dentists for every 10,000 people.

North Carolina ranks 47th out of the 50 states in the number of dentists per capita, according to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Many people without dental care live in rural areas, where North Carolina averages three dentists for every 10,000 people. That compares to urban areas of the state, where the ratio is nearly five dentists for every 10,000 people. Four counties, all in the northeast, have no dentists.

“We’ve taken the fourth floor of the dental school—the senior year clinical area—we’ve stretched the wires and we’re moving that part of our dental school to communities across the state where dental services are needed,” said Dr. Chadwick. “We are not only providing much-needed care, but we are also educating our future dentists in areas similar to where we hope they will practice.”

A video about the new center is online at www.youtube.com/watch?v= t3aZ6WET8zM.