Pediatric Dental Collaborative | Eastern North Carolina Now

    Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is Spaine Stephens.

The East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine hosted the inaugural cohort of the Dr. Jasper L. Lewis, Jr. Collaborative in Pediatric Dentistry, providing dentists skills they need to care for the youngest dental patients. (ECU file photo)

    After years of shaping a concrete idea from a vision, the East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine hosted the inaugural cohort of the Jasper L. Lewis, Jr. Collaborative in Pediatric Dentistry.

    The collaborative provides practicing general dentists a year-long program built around rigorous academic classroom and clinical experiences focused on building their knowledge and skills in caring for pediatric dental patients. The collaborative was created to mirror the values of the School of Dental Medicine - including the mission to be vocal advocates for children, while also being professionally positioned to improve their oral health care.

    "Additional training in pediatric dentistry is something I have sought out and hoped for, for a long time," said Rachel Tucker, one of the first four participants in the Lewis Collaborative, who practices at Seaside Dentistry in Cedar Point, N.C., and attended the University of Alabama-Birmingham School of Dentistry.

    "My practice sees a lot of children and I enjoy them as patients. The more comfortable I am with the clinical concepts, the more efficient I am, and the freer I am to be a team manager and relationship builder, thus creating a better experience for the patient and caregiver. From a public health perspective, more convenience means better access to care. These are ripple effects."

    The Lewis Collaborative is led by Michael Webb, chair of the ECU dental school's Department of Pediatric Dentistry, Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics.

    Webb was named the school's inaugural Jasper L. Lewis, Jr. Distinguished Scholar last year. The Lewis Collaborative is an extension of the Jasper L. Lewis Distinguished Professorship that is named in honor of Dr. Jasper L. Lewis a pediatric dentist in Greenville, N.C., and has been a leader in pediatric dentistry at the national, state and local levels for many years. The endowed professorship will help ECU's School of Dental Medicine educate the next generation of dentists, with a focus on pediatric dentistry.

    "Having the collaborative come to life with the first campus visit by the cohort was very exciting," Webb said. "I felt honored to be able to have a hand in seeing the collaborative go from being a concept outlined on a legal pad one afternoon to a program that will not only train dentists in caring for children but will provide access to care in rural and underserved areas. I also know that I have the responsibility to be the steward of this program and an advocate for pediatric dental care."

    The collaborative experience

    The Lewis Collaborative includes campus visits to Ross Hall, the School of Dental Medicine's campus facility, for academic and clinical work. The collaborative also includes a home-based assignment system, which the participants discussed in person during their visit.

    That interaction with colleagues led to clarity on treatment options for children as well as a better understanding of best practices.

    "During our first on-campus portion, I was able to collaborate with Dr. Webb and other pediatric dentists along with my fellow cohort of general dentists to have some of our lingering questions answered," said Jessica Shamberger, a 2019 graduate of the ECU School of Dental Medicine who now practices at Kintegra Family Dentistry in Lincolnton, N.C. "We were able to present questions and be trained to start thinking like a pediatric dentist. I've gained three new colleagues across the state and we are able to lean on and collaborate with each other while practicing in different locations."

    Shamberger said it meant a great deal to her to return to the School of Dental Medicine as part of the Lewis Collaborative.

    "It was great to receive additional training from the institution that gave me my dental training," she said. "I also love the idea of general dentists being able to receive additional training in treating children without having to formally specialize in pediatric dentistry."

    Jessica Atwood graduated from the UNC Adams School of Dentistry in 2020 and practices at Family Dental Associates in Eden, N.C. She said participating in the collaborative changed her perspective and made her feel more a part of a statewide dental team.

    "We were able to bond over treatment planning and the struggles we face as general dentists treating pediatric patients," she said. "I am bringing to my practice the strategies and techniques of pediatric patient care and a new confidence in handling the struggles that we face daily as general dentists treating pediatric patients."

    Crystal Rosser said the Lewis Collaborative has a special focus not only on pediatric dental care, but on communities as well.

    "This collaborative reaches far beyond ... the ECU campus and allows us to go back to our communities to make strides to changing the landscape of many lives for years to come," said Rosser, who works at Kintegra Family Dentistry in Mocksville, N.C., and graduated from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. "The relationships that I am beginning to foster and the experiences that I have are enabling me to strengthen my knowledge base to use my skills in a greater capacity. I want to be the best version of myself as a dental provider to my community."

    Webb said the participants were engaged with the topics and with focusing on the distinctions between caring for adult and pediatric patients.

    "They all commented how they were seeing the differences between treating adults and children and more importantly, how they would apply this to their practices," he said. "The participants also had a chance to have some informal discussions where they discovered that they were facing a lot of the same challenges when treating children."

    Those discoveries will lead to even better care for the smallest patients across North Carolina.

    "There were an uncountable number of lightbulb moments facilitated by Dr. Webb," Tucker said. "I am seeing that pediatric dentistry is composed of an entirely different set of thought patterns that give context to the basic clinical concepts. I'm going home with both tweaks to how I perform procedures and new frameworks for diagnosing these little patients."

    The professorship

    The Lewis Collaborative was created to bring out the best in general dentists with a passion for serving children - through not only classroom lessons but patient care opportunities as well.

    "I was especially impressed because this wasn't just a string of classes; we were plugged into the ECU community," Tucker said. "We were invited to participate in the Give Kids a Smile event at Dr. Lewis's office."

    That opportunity gave the participants more exposure to the collaborative's overall goal -to enable general dentists to provide a wider range of services to children who have limited access to specialty care.

    The Lewis Collaborative is made up of three modules, each with an active learning component that the participants complete at home. There is also an on-campus component to each module where the participants review the learning activities and participate in clinical care to reinforce and augment the didactic activities that they have completed. The collaborative covers a wide range of topics in pediatric dentistry from routine examination of the child to providing dental care to children with special health care needs.

    The collaborative is a nationally unique program that stems from the Jasper L. Lewis, Jr. Distinguished Professorship in Pediatric Dentistry, the school's first endowed professorship supported by gifts through the ECU Medical & Health Sciences Foundation, Inc. The professorship was rolled out in 2020 and Webb was named the inaugural scholar in the summer of 2022.

    The professorship and collaborative honor longtime national and local pediatric dental trailblazer Jasper L. Lewis, who grew up in eastern North Carolina. He earned his dental degree from UNC-Chapel Hill and completed a postdoctoral degree in pediatric dentistry from UNC in 1973 - the same year he opened his Greenville practice. He held a term as president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and another as vice president of the North Carolina Dental Society. He has been a driving force in East Central Dental Society's annual "Give Kids a Smile" Day since the program began nationally in 2003.

    The takeaways

    Atwood, Rosser, Shamberger and Tucker will continue completing the requirements of the collaborative experience during the year - but for now are happy to reflect on their time on campus.

    "When I read the Lewis Collaborative initial email, I knew that the mission of the collaborative aligned with my own personal mission of providing the best care for pediatric patients in rural communities," Atwood said.

    Tucker said that the school's commitment to community is a particularly rare and valuable trait.

    "This is profound and unusual, and gives meaning to any public health outreach," she said. "During our three days in Greenville, I had individual conversations with many faculty, administrators, staff and supporters. Unsolicited and in different words, all of them expressed the same belief, that this initiative is a gift to the people of eastern North Carolina. It's my sincere hope that other universities will emulate what they are doing here."

    As an alumna of ECU's dental school, Shamberger felt right at home in a program that so tangibly defines the mission.

    "They care about making sure dentists in North Carolina are trained to see the people of North Carolina," she said. "Those people are adults and children. Most dentists are comfortable seeing adults but seeing children is where some feel very uncomfortable. I'm glad they recognized this gap in care for children and were willing to help fill it.

    Rosser said the Lewis Collaborative and the school show commitment to a very special population in oral health care.

    "It speaks volumes of the vision, mission and core values of the ECU School of Dental Medicine to be a leader in community-based dentistry, and to develop leaders with a passion to serve the underserved and improve oral health in North Carolina," she said. "As a health care professional, it is important to continue to learn, grow, and evolve. A healthy smile can lead to many healthier avenues for a child - and the children of North Carolina deserve the best that they can possibly obtain."
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