Construction begins for Dental Care facility

Published 4:42 pm Friday, August 4, 2023

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RC Community Health

AULANDER – Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center (RCCHC) will break ground at its Dental Integrated Care of Aulander site at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 8.

This new integrated health care practice, located at 312 South Pine Street, will have eight dental operatories as well as other offices. At full operational capacity, the site will be staffed with two dentists, two hygienists, and other health care providers.

All services that RCCHC offers at other sites will be accessible at the Aulander site as well.

“RCCHC practices whole person care and with the facility in Aulander we will be able to expand our capacity to address oral health needs in our region,” stated Kim Schwartz, CEO of RCCHC.

Funding for the construction of the new site was awarded through federal Capital Assistance for Disaster Response and Recovery Efforts (CADRE). Later funding was added through a Congressional earmark requested and achieved by NC Congressional District 1, then the office of Representative G.K. Butterfield, and now held by Representative Don Davis. Funding for dental staff also came from the North Carolina General Assembly through the Community Health Grant program.

CADRE funding “supports the continuity of access to high quality primary care services for vulnerable populations in areas impacted by natural disasters that occurred in 2018 or 2019.” In the RCCHC service area, Bertie County was the only area that qualified due to prolonged and extensive flooding from major hurricanes including Matthew, Florence, and Michael.

This facility was in the design stage during the global pandemic and thus benefits from the knowledge gained regarding airflow and infection control. The facility is designed with outside venting for every operatory and exam room, which assists in aerosolized particle control. RCCHC takes care of the whole patient and their whole health—which includes dental health, a critical component to whole person care.

“Dentistry plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health and well-being,” said Dr. Terry Hall, a local dentist and a board member at RCCHC. “Research has shown that there is a strong link between oral health and various systemic health conditions. Poor oral health has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory infections, digestion problems, complications during pregnancy, and other conditions.”

Dr. Hall added that RCCHC’s integrated dental and medical health facility will afford patients the opportunity to obtain the necessary dental and medical care in one building. Dental and medical providers will be able to consult with each other with the patient present.

“The increased number of dentists and dental hygienists will help address the shortage of dental providers in Bertie and Hertford County,” Dr. Hall noted.

When the Aulander site is open, RCCHC will extend its sliding fee scale program, which allows patients to pay in relation to how much they earn, and thus makes care possible where it wasn’t possible before.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for people who have not been able to receive dental care because they don’t have dental insurance,” said Deborah Morrison, board chair of RCCHC.

Sally Lewis, (Dental Practice Manager, School Based Dental Program Coordinator, and Lead Dental Hygienist), added “I am so excited to be a part of the development and opening of our first dental clinic. Oral health is a key component to overall health and this clinic will help close the loop for whole body care. Patients who were previously unable to access dental care will now have the opportunity.”

RCCHC’s partnership with ECU School of Dental Medicine Service-learning site has helped RCCHC understand more deeply the need for more access to routine dental care in our communities.

“ECU has enjoyed a strong relationship with RCCHC since our school opened and we look forward to this continuing for many more years. The new clinic in Aulander will provide opportunities for us to find new and innovative ways to serve the dental needs of the community,” said T. Robert Tempel, Jr., DDS, Associate Dean for Extramural Clinical Practices at the East Carolina School of Dental Medicine.

The North Carolina Center for Health Statistics February 2020 County Trends Reports for Key Health Indicators shows Bertie County has a severe shortage of dentists with only 0.5 dentists/10,000 population compared to the state rate of 5.0 dentists/10,000 population. There is only one practicing dentist operating in Bertie County, Dr. Johnathan Hairr, whose practice also offers dental hygiene services.

The NC Oral Health Section of the State Department of Public Health reports that Region 9, which includes Bertie County, has the highest percentage of kindergarteners with untreated tooth decay in the state and only 3.7% of children have at least one sealant on a permanent molar tooth. This is not surprising given the short supply of dentists and the fact that only 17% of the population is served by public water systems that are fluoridated in Bertie County, compared to 88% of the statewide population that has fluoridated water supplies. In fact, only 7.7% of qualified schools participated in the Fluoride Mouth Rinse program through the state dental program in the RCCHC region compared to 41.1% of schools in the state.

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