Cyetesse Cotton has been getting her teeth cleaned at the same place for more than 40 years.
But this fall, Cotton and others who use Orange County Dental Health Services will have to travel a little farther for dental care.
While the clinic in Carr Mill Mall — which costs the county $65,000 per year to lease — was originally scheduled to close in July, the Orange County Board of Commissioners pushed back its closure to September due to renovation delays at the Hillsborough Whitted Human Services Center, which will become the sole county-sponsored dental health clinic.
“I’m just tired of them taking everything from here and putting everything in Hillsborough,” Cotton said. “This is supposed to be our community dentistry — and we are all Orange County, it’s true — but we need one here for people who can’t get to Hillsborough.”
In April of last year, Orange County’s Board of Health submitted a report to the county commissioners in response to a March 2010 recommendation that the dual-service system be consolidated.
While the report acknowledged the dire financial straits that led to the recommendation, the memo cited concerns that patrons of the Carrboro clinic would find it difficult to arrange reliable transportation to and from Hillsborough.
Chapel Hill Town Council member Laurin Easthom, who practices dentistry part-time at a community clinic in Carrboro, said she shares these concerns and feels that moving dental services away from the county’s population center can only spell trouble.
“Dental care is one of those things that you can just put off,” she said. “If you can’t get there, you’re more likely to put off treatment, which means you’ll end up with emergency situations.”
In her practice, Easthom said she sees a high number of such emergency cases, which she said can generally be prevented by greater access to primary dental care. She said the inconvenience of a trip to Hillsborough will be prohibitive for low-income and elderly patients.
But County Manager Frank Clifton said the county is in talks with Triangle Transit to solve the transportation problem.
“They’re working on a voucher system for those who would ride the 420 route (to Hillsborough),” he said. “Right now, the bus stops about a block and a half from where the clinic is, but we’re working on that as well.”
Clifton said cutting a location could simplify the county’s dental care. Currently, Carr Mill’s clinic is open on Mondays and Tuesdays, while Hillsborough’s office provides services Wednesday through Friday. Clifton estimates that by consolidating service, the county will be able to serve an additional 1,000 patients per year.
“Say you went to the dentist, and you needed a second follow-up appointment,” he said. “It was hard to schedule those if (the Carrboro clinic) is just open two days a week.”
Contact the City Editor at email@example.com.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.