11/17/13 — New dentist fills health department need

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New dentist fills health department need

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 17, 2013 1:50 AM

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Dentist Dr. Tera Harrison, DDS, fills a cavity for a patient in the Dental Clinic of the Wayne County Health Department recently. The health department had been without a full-time dentist since July 2012, so her hiring has filled what has been a void in Wayne County.

Wayne County Health Department's new dentist has only been on the job about a month, but already she has a full patient load.

Davin Madden, health director, introduced Dr. Tera Harrison to the county Board of Health last week.

"We're really excited to have you here," said board member Robert Cagle III.

The department has been without a full-time dentist since July 2012.

"We have been contracting dentists from all over the place," he said. "It's always a struggle when you're working with a contract and you don't have a stable environment for patients to build up a dental home."

Consistency is important, he explained, especially when it comes to keeping patients on track with good oral hygiene.

Unfortunately, Madden said, securing a dentist has been a struggle, just as it is to provide good dental care to residents.

"Now that we have a dentist that will be here, I'm excited because we can move forward," he said. "I'm just excited that we have moved into that next stage and we're providing affordable dental care."

Even more important than providing the services, though, he pointed out, is the prevention piece.

"Poor oral hygiene is a precursor to other diseases," Madden said. "Even though it's costly to go to the dentist, a lot of time it would cost them less to get routine care than to wait until there's an abscess or some other problem."

Ms. Harrison's office handles a variety of services, from cleanings and preventive care to sealant, routine extractions, root canals, dentures and crowns.

Now that there is a permanent dentist in place, she said she is working to establish a more comprehensive care plan with patients rather than emergency care.

"A lot of times the reason treatment has been postponed is people haven't done the preventive," she said.

At the outset, she said she was seeing "a lot more kids than I expected," but added that she enjoys working with the younger population. Education of all ages, though, is going to be a big focus in her clinic, she said.

"I would say the biggest thing is like a simple goal but having people come back to me, that's the biggest reward -- (when) they actually come back and they bring their kids because that's when you'll see change in the community," she said.

Ms. Harrison didn't start out with aspirations of becoming a dentist.

While a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, from which she graduated in 2006 with a bachelor's degree in psychology, she initially studied health administration because she enjoyed the business aspect.

It wasn't until she had an opportunity to shadow a dentist that she changed her career direction.

"(Dentistry) had the combination of business and health care," she said. "I always wanted to do something where I felt like I was making a difference."

She continued her graduate work at Howard University, pursuing a dental degree. She also did a year of general practice residency at Bronx Lebanon Hospital in New York.

"You don't have to do a residency but I felt that I needed to do it to increase my speed," she said. "I learned a lot."

The opportunity proved valuable, she said, providing firsthand experience in some of the things she'd before only seen in textbooks,

The career choice made, the destination was not difficult for the Rocky Mount native.

"I always knew I wanted to come back here because my family is here," she said of eastern North Carolina.

Early on, she had made contact with the N.C. Office of Rural Health and Community Care, where she learned about the need for dentists in the public health sector.

"I feel both Howard and Bronx Lebanon, a lot of my training was geared to public health," she said. "I felt like if I did private practice or corporate, I would be limited. I really wanted to give back a little."

Office hours for the dental clinic are Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. Appointments can be made by calling 919-580-4050.

"We only take Medicaid and self-pay," Dr. Harrison said. "We can do a sliding scale based on income and eligibility. If they have private insurance, usually it's better price-wise to go to a private office but if they're uninsured it's really good for the price."