First-year dental students plan future
Published 1:22 am Thursday, September 27, 2012
ECU News Release
Families in rural North Carolina will soon get healthier smiles, thanks to a new class of 52 dental students, including three from Beaufort County, committing to practice dentistry in underserved communities.
Credle Harris, Brooke Burnette and Philip Cochran completed their first year at East Carolina University’s School of Dental Medicine. Their experiences within the close-knit communities of Beaufort County have led them to serve others through the dental profession.
“I’ve found that I truly love interacting with people and that few things give me as much satisfaction as really helping others,” Cochran said. “I want to gain the most I can from my education so that I can provide premier dental care to my fellow North Carolinians.”
The number of dentists in North Carolina is not keeping pace with the state’s population boom. North Carolina ranks 47th out of 50 states in dentist-to-population ratio. According to the Division of Public Health State Center for Health Statistics, Beaufort County had only 2.8 dentists per 10,000 residents in 2008, which is significantly less than North Carolina’s already low ratio of 4.3.
Harris witnessed first-hand the lack of available care in Washington through volunteer work with the NC Dental Society’s Missions of Mercy program, which provides free dental services to those in financial need.
“When I arrived at 5:30 a.m., the line for Missions of Mercy was already out the door and wrapped around the building. This was the first time I saw the tremendous need for primary dental care,” Harris, of Bath, said.
These students’ dedication will fill a growing oral health need in the state. Dental emergencies accounted for more than 69,000 emergency room visits in North Carolina in 2009.
“For those who don’t have access to basic oral health care, treatment is often postponed until problems are so acute they result in emergency room visits,” said Gregory Chadwick, interim dean at the ECU School of Dental Medicine. “Dedicated students like Credle, Brooke and Philip will help address the access-to-care challenges we have in our state because our students commit to helping those who need it most.”
Harris, Burnette and Cochran will begin seeing Greenville patients in Ross Hall at ECU as soon as this fall. By their fourth year, each will begin providing dental care at three of 10 planned ECU School of Dental Medicine Community Service Learning Centers across the state. School of Dental Medicine faculty members, residents, students and staff will provide oral health care services for rural and underserved populations, including those eligible for Medicaid.
The ECU School of Dental Medicine has announced six planned locations for community service learning centers to date, including Ahoskie, Elizabeth City, Lexington, Lillington, Spruce Pine and Sylva. Leaders will identify the remaining four in the next year.
“At an early age, I learned how important it is to be an active member in my community,” said Burnette, of Chocowinity. “The ECU School of Dental Medicine is the perfect place for me because I share its vision to help all citizens receive the dental care they deserve, and I plan to practice in a rural area after graduation.”
The ECU School of Dental Medicine welcomed its first class of 52 students in August 2011. The school and faculty offer real-world practice settings, cutting-edge technology and training to prepare students for their role as primary care dentists dedicated to working and living in North Carolina communities that need them most.