The establishment of a dental school in Lumberton would be a big step in filling a cavity, not only Robeson, but also in surrounding counties.
According to the East Carolina School of Dental School of Medicine, Robeson and the five adjoining counties — Cumberland, Hoke, Scotland, Columbus and Bladen — all rank in the top 25 percent in the the state for the percentage of residents who don’t have regular access to dental care.
That is hardly a headline given the region’s demographics and the depressed economy. People who are struggling to put food on their table are not likely to find money for someone to drill on a tooth.
On Monday night, the county Board of Commissioners is expected to approve the gift of about 2.5 acres of land beside Pinecrest Country Club to East Carolina, a step that we are told will guarantee the dental school is established. There are three obvious benefits:
— The school will provide some local jobs, although most of the staff is likely to come from Greenville.
— It will inspire area students to consider dentistry as a career, if not as a dentist, as a hygienist or an assistant. The average salary for a dentist in the United States is about $150,000, for hygienists it is approaching $70,000, and for an assistant it is about $35,000. A fair conclusion is that many of those who are educated at the school will go to work locally.
— Perhaps most importantly, the school is expected to provide free dental care to local residents, people who don’t have a regular dentist and are willing to allow students to do the work. That care will include outreach programs, during which the importance of dental health can be stressed. Brushing a couple of times a day and flossing is a good start, but seeing a dentist a couple of times a year is necessary to dental health.
The only opposition we can see might come from local dentists worried about the pie being sliced too thin. But our count is that in Robeson County there are only about 15 to 20 dentists who regularly practice, meaning that there are about 7,000 to 9,000 residents for each dentist. Even if the number of residents seeking dental care is half that, 3,500 to 4,500 patients we believe would be an impossible number for a single dentist to accommodate.
The ECU dental school will mean more Robesonians receiving regular dental care, either at the school or because of an increase in the number of providers locally. That’s worthy of a smile.