Federal grant pays for dental care bus .

Dentistry

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Residents of Wilson, Nash and Edgecombe counties will have more access to dental care thanks to a federal grant aimed at expanding services.

Carolina Family Health Centers was recently awarded $300,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration to expand its oral health service capacity through new infrastructure enhancements, officials said.

Carolina Family Health Centers operates community health centers in Wilson, Nash and Edgecombe counties. The organization was one of seven health centers in North Carolina to receive funding.

Laura Owens, CEO for Carolina Family Health Centers, said the agency’s grant proposal consisted of purchasing a mobile unit from which oral health education, screening, preventative and restorative treatment could be provided.

“The need for accessible and affordable oral health services in our three-county service area of Edgecombe, Nash and Wilson counties is significant and well documented,” Owens said. “While we do offer dental services from our dental center in Nash County and provide transportation services for our patients, the need to travel for dental care continues to serve as a barrier to care for many residents of rural areas.”

Owens said organizers’ hope is that a mobile unit will enable the centers to provide oral health care and other health care services to existing patients and community residents in a setting closer to their home and in their comfort zone.

“We are incredibly grateful for this funding and the impact it will have on our service area residents,” she said.

The proposed mobile unit will take about eight months to build, officials said. It will be equipped for dental screenings, cleanings and procedures, including fillings and extractions. The mobile unit will have X-ray capabilities as well and will be staffed by a dentist and dental assistant.

“The mobile unit will also have dedicated medical space for medical screenings, physicals, immunizations and acute medical needs,” Owens said.

She said Carolina Family Health Centers will also use the mobile unit for “inreach efforts of providing oral health services to patients” at Freedom Hill Community Health Center in Tarboro and Wilson Community Health Center. Owens added that Harvest Family Health Center in Elm City is located beside the Carolina Family Dental Center, which offers easy access to dental services for medical patients.

“The mobile unit will also be used for outreach efforts to reach residents in the community who need access to affordable dental and medical care,” Owens said. “These outreach efforts may include community events and collaborative efforts with local community partners.”

Hilary Patterson, chief dental officer of Carolina Family Health Centers, said oral health is an important but often overlooked part of health care.

“Most dental disease is preventable with appropriate oral hygiene and routine visits to a dentist,” Patterson said. “Nationally, North Carolina has historically had one of the lowest dentists-to-population ratios and, in some rural communities, the nearest dentist could be more than half an hour away. A mobile dental unit will allows us to reach patients who may not otherwise engage in dental care.”