Uptown Greenville, NC


Dental School Opens Wide To Visitors

By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

October 13, 2012 - A new chapter in the history of dental care in North Carolina officially opened on Friday. Thousands of underserved residents of North Carolina’s rural areas received the fulfillment of a promise made seven years earlier to deliver them the best that dental medicine has to offer.

The East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine opened the doors of Ledyard E. Ross Hall to the visiting public following a dedication and ribbon-cutting hosted by university chancellor Steve Ballard. The event drew about 600 local, state and federal elected and appointed officials, faculty, students and stakeholders.

“Ross Hall not only provides a world-class learning facility for our students, it represents the completion of our promise to build a unique dental school that serves every area of North Carolina that is currently without sufficient oral health care,” Ballard said. “It is also symbolic of ECU’s historic mission to make a difference for North Carolina.”

Ballard praised Dr. Ledyard E. Ross’ commitment to the community, calling him a “great friend of ECU.” Ross, a retired Greenville orthodontist, donated $4 million to the school.

The school’s mission will be to deliver the highest quality dental care available in the country, provided by new dentists educated in an entirely new way using techniques and tools developed on the frontier of science and technology, Dr. Greg Chadwick, the school’s new dean, said. Chadwick led a tour of the four-story 188,000-square-foot educational and clinical facility on the west medical campus.

Programs will include the four-year doctor of dental medicine degree and post-graduate programs in advanced education and general dentistry, general practice residency and pediatric dentistry.

The facility houses six clinics located on three of the school’s four floors, one floor for each year of training the dental students receive. There are also dental X-ray suites, oral surgery suites and conference centers in which live remote consultations can be held with dental clinics in the most remote parts of the state.

Chadwick’s tour of the facility was a display of modern technology rarely seen anywhere, and on a scale perhaps unequaled. In addition to serving as a national model for the delivery of dental health care, its curriculum also is a model for educating dentists and for using technology to integrate and deliver clinical and teleconferencing services to all areas of the state.

As a faculty member demonstrated a mock general procedure on a state-of-the-art dummy head and mouth, it was visible live on viewing screens at all 56 student operatory stations inside the clinic, in the school’s two learning halls and at the school’s community service learning center in Ahoskie, one of 10 such centers the school has established in eastern North Carolina.

Chadwick explained why the school decided early in the planning stages to focus on delivering a broad range of primary dental care to rural and underserved portions of the state.

“Demographically, North Carolina ranks 47th in the number of dentists per capita,” Chadwick said. “On top of that, we’re the fifth-fastest growing state, and a third of today’s practicing dentists are 55 years old and older.”

There currently are about five dentists per 10,000 population in the 15 urban counties of the state, but only about three dentists per 10,000 in the 85 rural counties, Chadwick said. Twenty five percent of North Carolina counties have two or fewer dentists, and Tyrell, Camden and Hyde counties have no dentists.

The school welcomed its inaugural class of 52 students in August 2011, and another 52 students began this August. They represent 50 North Carolina counties and all are state residents.

“It’s been an incredible experience so far,” said first-year student Drew Jordan of Greenville. “We have an amazing facility and it’s nice to know we have all the tools we need to fulfill our mission.”

Sophomore Diana Luckhardt of Summerfield said she feels motivated to make the most of her opportunities at ECU.

“You know how much work and money has gone into this and you want to put it to good use for the entire population of North Carolina,” Luckhardt said.

Kasey Oxendine of Lumberton said her roots in rural North Carolina make her mission personally important.

“I’ve seen first-hand the need for dentists in those areas. I want to be one of those dentists that ECU is preparing to work there; it’s close to my heart,” she said.

The ECU School of Dental Medicine will begin screening patients for dental service in November, Chadwick said.

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9571.