ECU dental clinics get $225K boost from Dogwood Health Trust

A large donation to the East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine will allow the school to increase services for low-income patients in two rural clinics.

The Dogwood Health Trust gave $225,000 for patient care funds at the School of Dental Medicine’s community service learning centers (CLCS) in Sylva and Spruce Pine. The Dogwood Health Trust is an Asheville-based organization focused on improving the overall health of people in western North Carolina.

“This investment in our community service learning centers in Sylva and Spruce Pine by the Dogwood Health Trust will open doors to much-needed dental care for patients in western North Carolina who otherwise might not be able to receive it,” said Dr. Greg Chadwick, dean of the School of Dental Medicine. “The generosity of this grant impacts both patient care and education, with potentially significant transformation of oral health care in our mountain communities and beyond.”

East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine students provide dental care during the 2021 Smiles for Veterans event at the community service learning center in Sylva. (Photo by Spaine Stephens)

In addition to providing oral health care, the patient care funds allow ECU dental students to provide much-needed services while gaining valuable educational experience. Fourth-year students complete 27 weeks of intensive clinical experience at the CSLCs and clinics. Each of the school’s eight CSLCs provides an economic impact of well over $1 million in their respective communities.

“Our clinic is one of the few in western North Carolina that takes Medicaid patients on a routine basis. We provide a dental home for many patients who have financial issues,” said Dr. Robert Manga, clinical assistant professor and director of the Sylva clinic. The donation from Dogwood Health is a great example of the local community trying to help those who have financial limitations.”

“The difference this will make in the lives and smiles of each patient is enormous,” added Gene Self, the business manager at the Spruce Pine clinic. “It will give them healthier lives, confidence and, in some cases, quite literally change their lives for the better.”

Self sees the impact of the work at the clinics daily. With the patient care funds, a patient may be able to get a new denture to restore the smile they’ve been missing. A patient may be able to keep a tooth instead of opting for the cheaper option of extraction. And a patient who was putting off care altogether may finally be able to receive it.

“We are changing lives one patient at a time. And we are serving the underserved, one of the goals of the School of Dental Medicine. The students also get to see firsthand what delivering care to our rural area is like and it sets them up to be more realistic, empathetic and successful in their own careers,” Self said.

“This project was a win-win,” said Dr. Susan Mims, CEO of Dogwood Health Trust. “Regular, affordable dental care from clinics like ECU’s can help our neighbors in rural communities avoid pain and illness and reduce absences from school and work. The clinics in Spruce Pine and Sylva also provide hands-on training for future dental health professionals who may choose to practice in our region once their training is complete.”

In addition to the support for the Spruce Pine and Sylva clinics, $25,000 of the Dogwood Health Trust grant will be used for education planning and research to address the shortage of dental assistants and hygienists in the region and state. This could include partnerships with peer institutions in western North Carolina to identify potential students who want to pursue dentistry as a career and offering hands-on experiences at ECU’s clinics.

ECU is in the public phase of the Pursue Gold campaign to raise half a billion dollars. This ambitious effort will create new paths to success for Pirates on campus, across the country and around the world. Donor gifts during the campaign will keep us constantly leading and ready to advance what’s possible. Learn more at

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