Dental students hit the books

March 21, 2012

The first dental school to open in 40 years in Illinois recently welcomed its first class and is part of a trend toward opening new schools that is being seen nationwide. One hundred and thirty one students are in the inaugural class of the new College of Dental Medicine-Illinois in Downers Grove. According to a report by the American Dental Association, it is one eight institutions that have opened dental schools since 1997, and two others have announced their intentions to start schools.

The first dental school to open in 40 years in Illinois recently welcomed its first class and is part of a trend toward opening new schools that is being seen nationwide.

One hundred and thirty one students are in the inaugural class of the new College of Dental Medicine-Illinois in Downers Grove.

According to a report by the American Dental Association, it is one eight institutions that have opened dental schools since 1997, and two others have announced their intentions to start schools.

The new openings are in contrast to the period between 1986 and 2001 when seven dental programs were shuttered permanently.

The ADA report “An In-Depth Look at New Dental Schools” attributes the start-ups of these schools to interest among young people in the dental profession, the perceived need to have more dentists to provide oral care and respond to an anticipated upswing in retiring dentists and because many of the universities starting the schools have a healthcare focus and want to have dentistry as one of the inter-disciplinary learning experiences they offer to students.

After Northwestern and Loyola Universities closed their dental schools, the dental school at Midwestern is one of only three in the state. The high number of applicants to the first class-2,000-- reflects interest among young people in the dental profession, said Frank Licari, associate dean for academic affairs.

The first class is a diverse group that ranges in age from 21 to 37 years-old, is 63 percent male and 37 percent female, and hails from 27 different states and three foreign countries including Canada, South Korea and Thailand.

In order to be accepted, students must already have earned a U.S. degree in the sciences. They will graduate in 2015 with a doctor of dental medicine degree. They will provide needed dental care to their communities, said Licari, noting that demand for dental and oral care has fueled interest in the school.

Richard Valachovic, executive director of the American Dental Education Association, said in the ADA report that other new dental schools also are focusing on the need in their communities for professionals to provide oral care.

“Many of these universities have missions to serve their communities as part of their programs,” he said. “Many of them see the access to dental care challenge and believe that they are helping responds to that challenge by educating more dentists.”

Students at Midwestern University will begin their first two-years of study on the Downers Grove Campus and complete their clinical education at the new Midwestern University Clinic which is under construction and scheduled to open in 2013.

At the clinic, community members will receive comprehensive dental care from Midwestern students under the guidance of faculty mentors.

“We have an integrated way in which we’re teaching, both in biomedical and dental sciences,” Licari said. “It’s very patient-based.”

Though the opening of new dental schools may seem like a trend to applaud, the ADA report also cites concerns that dental professional associations are voicing such as high levels of debt for students. According to the HPRC Survey of Dental Education for 2009-10, students who graduate from public schools paid an average of $124,397 for their education while those in private schools paid $223,788.

As students at Midwestern and other schools make their way through their educational programs, the ADA and other professional associations are committed to keeping an eye on the trend, and what it may mean for the profession.