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Health Team

$600K Grant Provides Rural Dental Facility Aimed to Attract More Dentists

Posted February 8, 2007 7:55 p.m. EST

— Six days a week, a crowd is always waiting when the dental clinic opens at the Tri-County Community Health Center.

On Saturdays, patients come as early at 5 a.m.

"If it's raining, they sit out in the rain, so they wouldn't lose their turn," said Dr. Horace Harris, the clinic's director.

But a $600,000 grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust helped pay for a new dental clinic that includes a large covered front porch so patients can stay dry.

The goal of the grant aims to attract more dentists to practice in rural areas like Sampson County. Good dental care can be difficult in many eastern North Carolina counties where people are not as likely to have insurance.

Each year, approximately 4,000 new dentists graduate in the United States. Most of them want to work in areas where patients are more likely to have dental insurance.

When Harris first arrived at the Tri-County Community Health Center 17 years ago, he was the only dentist working in a doublewide trailer.

Now, Harris will be one of seven dentists working in more than 10,000 square feet of dental space, including plenty of lab space and up-to-date equipment such as new digital X-rays.

The UNC School of Dentistry in Chapel Hill will send more dental residents as part of a partnership with the dental clinic.

The facility also includes a teleconference room to link the dentists to experts in Chapel Hill, "using that facility to do instruction as well as real-time consultation," said Dr. John Williams, dean of the UNC School of Dentistry.

The residency program helps more dentists like Dr. Jason Lee learn what it is like to work in a rural area. That used to mean cramped spaces and out-of-date equipment.

"This is a more exciting environment for us to be able to provide the care that they need in a quality environment," Lee said.

He says it may even entice him or other dentists to call the area home, providing more dentists to a part of the state that sorely needs them.