East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine (ECU SoDM) was awarded a $400,000 grant by Duke Endowment to create a program that will provide public school students of Bertie county with oral health care. The Duke Endowment works with the community by granting money to several groups, including higher education like the ECU SoDM to help them serve underserved areas.
ECU SoDM is using its grant to help deliver students of Bertie county with oral health care. Case coordinator for the oral prevention program in Bertie county, Rachel Stewart, said the program will provide portable equipment to the schools to perform the examinations, comprehensive exams, x-rays, cleanings, sealants and fluoride on all of the children without charge or deductibles.
Bertie county has a high rate of decay, according to Stewart. The North Carolina oral health section screen kindergarteners on a regular basis and they have a 19% decay rate which is higher than the North Carolina average of 15%. There remains to be access to care issues since there is only one practicing dentist in the county among an estimated 20,000 residents. She said there was that along with transportation barriers to coordinating care.
“They (Bertie County) are one of the areas with the lowest median household income and one of the highest percentages of families living in poverty,” Stewart said.
The funding was given by Duke Endowment to ECU SoDM for the planning phase of the program in late 2018 and they are still receiving funding for the implementation phase which started in early 2019. The funding for the program will end June 2021, but the goal is to be self-sustaining off of the revenue of medicaid and private insurance, according to Stewart. Once it is self sustaining their next goal is to expand to other counties as well.
The director of the program and the one responsible for receiving the grant, Dr. Wanda Wright was unavailable at the time of this interview. Stewart said Wright contacted the school board and health department directly and Jennifer Buck, a hygienist that helps out with the oral prevention program, said she fell in love with public health when they had to do rotations in high school.
Buck has previously worked with mainly adult patients at other clinics but he said when the kids walk in with a smile on their face or the anticipation of wanting to go next shouting “me! me! me!” makes it all the more lively especially when the kids run up and hug hygienists.
“I enjoy it because we’re actually making a difference in these kids lives and we’re providing them with care that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to and I just find that very rewarding,” Buck said.
Buck said she loves making a difference not only with the kids but the parents and community and that it is very important to her. They work hard to make sure the kids have a positive experience since many of them don’t go see a dentist regularly. She said they are super excited about what they are doing and what is to come for the program’s future.