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Dental students and professor provide low-cost dentistry option close to home

The mouth is the “gateway to the body,” and regular dental care is essential for overall health, according to Dr. Ryan Cook, faculty director for East Carolina University’s School of Dental Medicine Davidson County Community Service Learning Center.

Located in Thomasville, the dental office is just 30 minutes away from Salisbury, and has brought in patients from Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Greensboro and Salisbury.

The center has two goals, Cook said. The first is to “serve the underserved community,” and the second is to “train outstanding clinicians.”

“We accept anyone who comes through the door,” Cook said.

The biggest barriers to dental care are access and finances, he said, adding, “Some people are just scared.”

The center provides comprehensive dental care for patients of all ages.

Services received at the Community Service Learning Center are typically 30-40 percent less expensive than those received in a regular dentist’s office, and are determined by a sliding scale based on the patient’s income. The center accepts Medicaid and a variety of insurance providers. They also offer payment plans.

Patients are treated by Cook and a team of four fourth-year dental students.

Most dental students attend a four-year institution and study a science-related field, before enrolling in a four-year dental program. During the first two years, they focus on classroom knowledge and work on mannequins. During the third year, the students are closely supervised during clinicals, and during the fourth year they rotate to different dental centers across the state.

Cook supervises those students during their time in Davidson County. During each appointment, the students follow specific protocol to ensure each patient is treated thoroughly.

“Our students are just phenomenal,” Cook said. “They constantly overachieve.”

Cook is a dual specialist, and specializes in periodontology and prosthodontics. With that background, he said it’s hard to impress him, but his students do it on a daily basis.

The major difference between a normal dentist office and the Community Service Learning Center, Cook said, is that appointments are typically a little longer.

“We are extremely thorough,” he said.

The center provides the following services: comprehensive general dentistry, children’s dentistry, oral surgery such as extractions, root canals, sealants and tooth-colored fillings, crowns and bridges, dentures and partial dentures, implant services, periodontal services and cleanings, cosmetic tooth whitening, digital radiography and 3-D/cone beam imaging.

The Community Service Learning Center of Davidson County is located at 1235 Davidson Community College Road in Thomasville. Appointments can be made by phone, at 336-236-0165.

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