Reason to smile

First Posted: 9/18/2013

We were never worried that East Carolina University’s plans to open a dental school had changed — well, maybe a tad bit — but the official announcement this week was welcome, as was the news that ground will be broken soon.

A couple of things caused us a bit of pause — a lot of time has passed since ECU’s plans were made public last year, during which not much more had been said about the school, and then there was Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican-led General Assembly’s alleged cuts in education that made us worry the money was no longer available.

The need in Robeson County for the dental school and bargain care that it will provide, which was already great, only grew with the closing in July of the dental clinic at the Health Department.

On Monday, Greg Chadwick, dean of the ECU School of Dental Medicine, said that a groundbreaking for the $3.6 million, 7,700-square-foot building to be located in front of the Pinecrest Country Club and adjacent to the Pinecrest Village subdivision, will happen any day on 2.5 acres of land that was donated by Robeson County.

The School of Dental Medicine’s Community Service Learning Center will be one of 10 ECU will eventually open in rural areas across the state. It will provide a site for fourth-year and post-graduate dental students to learn while providing care to qualifying residents. It will have 10 employees, including hygienists, dental assistants and office staff, all hired from the community, so it will be a boost to the local economy.

ECU’s mission is to train dentists who will be more likely to remain and practice in rural areas in North Carolina, where dental care isn’t always easily accessed. We are confident that the the school will inspire plenty of Robesonians to enter the dental profession.

Casey Oxendine, a second-year dental school student at ECU who grew up in Fairmont and Orrum, was at Monday’s announcement.

“I chose to go to ECU for dental school because of its emphasis on rural health care,” Oxendine said. “I knew when I chose the school that I plan to come back to Robeson County and practice … . There is a need for dentists here. When I was young and living in the county I experienced the shortage of dentists and the long waiting time it took to get to see a dentist.”

Studies have repeatedly shown that good oral health is important to a long and healthy life. A study released earlier this year showed that Robeson County, sadly, ranks near the bottom of all the counties in the state in overall health, and our rate of one dentist for every 5,500 residents, also among the worst in the state, is a contributing factor.

The arrival of the ECU dental school can help change that — and give us all a reason to smile.