By MIRANDA BAINES
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
Members of the Tarboro Rotary Club learned about East Carolina University’s community approach to dentistry training Thursday at their meeting at the Fountains at the Albemarle.
Rotarian Ed Roberson introduced the guest speaker, Dr. Michael Scholtz, associate professor and director of community clinics/ service learning centers for the ECU School of Dental Medicine, and spoke highly of the program.
“It’s a boom for this region, medically, economically, and otherwise,” Roberson said.
The ECU School of Dental Medicine has 50 pre-doctoral dental students each year, and all of those students are from North Carolina, Scholtz told the Rotarians. He said North Carolina continues to rank 47th in the nation in the number of dentists to population of 10,000. Out of the state’s 100 counties, 85 of them are rural. Many of those rural areas of the state have fewer than three dentists per 10,00 people.
“There are four counties in North Carolina that have no dentist whatsoever,” Scholtz said.
That’s where the ECU School of Dental Medicine’s mission comes in.
“In our recruitment for students, we try to look at those areas that don’t have that many dentists, because we want them to go back into those rural areas and to practice,” Scholtz said.
While the ECU School of Dental Medicine is based in Greenville, the school has “community service learning centers” throughout the state, which give dental students hands-on training experiences in rural communities. The school has two such centers in northeastern North Carolina, one in Ahoskie and one in Elizabeth City. The centers serve an array of patients not currently under the care of a dental provider, from “indigent patients” to patients with full dental insurance. The centers have served patients from 36 counties and two new centers – one in Davidson County and one in Mitchell County – are under construction.
Scholtz said the ECU School of Dental Medicine looks for students who have “service at heart,” because one of the expectations is that the students do community service while studying dentistry.
“We want them to know how wonderful it is to live in a place like Tarboro (for instance),” Scholtz said.
One such graduate of the ECU School of Dental Medicine is Dr. Jennifer Taylor, who recently began practicing dentistry in Tarboro with Dr. Jerry Price. Taylor demonstrated her commitment to providing dental care to underserved populations by cleaning the teeth of local elementary school children free of charge in February as part of the national “Give Kids a Smile” program.
Scholtz shared in his Thursday presentation that nearly 40 percent of children in North Carolina have had tooth decay by the time they enter primary school because of a lack of dental care.
“There’s a severe shortage of pediatric dentists in eastern North Carolina, as well,” Scholtz said.
The ECU School of Dental Medicine has three to four pediatric dental residents each year.
The school’s Class of 2017 is comprised of 52 students.
Rotary President Billy Wooten thanked Scholtz for his presentation on the dental school and said, “That’s a great economic development tool for our region, as well.”