School of Dental Medicine

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History of the School of Dental Medicine

The UNLV School of Dental Medicine (SDM) came into existence when key political, academic, and health leaders committed to addressing the state's shortage of dentists — particularly in rural areas — and the lack of oral health access for lower socioeconomic groups. The school was charged with preparing socially aware, clinically adept dentists to address oral health needs in Nevada.

Beginning a Mission

In December 2001, UNLV purchased 18 acres in the University Hospital complex and renovated the existing buildings. With founding dean Dr. E. Steven Smith overseeing a class of 75 students, the school opened the following fall to pursue its mission of improving the health of the citizens of Nevada through oral health care services; integrated biomedical, professional, and clinical curricula; and biomedical discovery. The school received its accreditation from the Commission on Dental Accreditation before opening in the summer of 2002.

Community Expansion

In 2004, a state-of-the-art clinical facility opened on the university's Shadow Lane Campus, with electronic patient records and financial systems; digital radiographic and photographic images; and electronic patient education on topics such as dental implants, extractions, root canals, and cosmetic dentistry. A contemporary simulation facility allows students to perform common dental procedures on mannequins, providing preclinical teaching and offering unique opportunities for continuing education. The clinic has recorded more than 63,000 patient visits, many from people who would not be able to afford care in the private sector.

Advanced Education

Since 2005, the UNLV SDM has offered highly competitive advanced education programs to 16 residents. The school currently offers the following specialty programs:

  • Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics Residency  (4 residents)
  • Pediatric Dentistry (6 residents)
  • General Practice Residency (6 residents) 

Innovative Curriculum

In its short history, the school has developed a national reputation for innovation in its curriculum. For example:

  • Courses are presented in thematic/systems formats rather than discipline-specific formats.
  • With the school's vision of striving "toward perfect health through oral health," the curriculum emphasizes the connection between oral health and systemic health.
  • To help prepare graduates for the business of dentistry, clinical faculty focus on the essential interactions of clinical productivity, patient management, and professional behavior.
  • To facilitate their interaction with the Spanish-speaking community, all students are required to take Spanish their first year.

Competitive Program

Last year, the school received more than 2,300 applications for its class of 75-80 students, attracting some of the top national applicants. Additionally, each year about 50% of the school's graduates are accepted into some of the most competitive and prestigious specialty programs in the country.

Reaching Out

Recognizing that Nevada's diverse populations present unique oral health care problems, the school reaches out to the community in various ways:

  • As part of the curriculum, student doctors regularly visit "at-risk" elementary schools, local assisted living centers, rural communities and work with special needs populations. The student doctors provide nutritional information as well as toothbrushes, toothpaste, and brushing/flossing instructions. To date, more than 98,000 children and adults have received such services.
  • About 53,000 youth have participated in Crackdown on Cancer, a grant-sponsored program that provides tobacco-prevention and oral health education and oral screenings to all high schools in Nevada, including 35 rural sites.
  • There are currently eight free clinics at the school to provide care for underserved populations. The clinics were started by students and help to serve veterans, homeless, at-risk youth, children, domestic abuse victims, the elderly and special needs patients.
  • Faculty, student doctors, and staff annually team with local practitioners to provide oral health services at the SDM clinics to underserved children at the Give Kids a Smile event.

Faculty Funding

To date, SDM professors have obtained more than $14 million in competitive grant funding, including:

  • Dr. Christina Demopoulos – Oral Health America approximately $300,000 (2010-2014)
  • Dr. Christina Demopoulos – Crackdown on Cancer, $6.3 Million (2001-2010)
  • Dr. Christina Demopoulos – ADEA Project Pool, $5,000 (2014)
  • Dr. Georgia Dounis – HRSA Geriatric Education Center, $4.3 Million (2010-2015)
  • Dr. Georgia Dounis – HRSA Geriatric Interdisciplinary Faculty Training, $310,000 (2010-2012)
  • Dr. Katherine Howard – NIH/NIDCR; Regulation of Platelet-activating Factor Acetylhydrolase during Inflammation, $360,000 (2011-2015)
  • Dr. Karl Kingsley – UNLV Office of Research Services, $26,000 (2004-2006, 2009)
  • Dr. Karl Kingsley – NIH Soy Health Research, $10,000 (2014)
  • Dr. Millie McClain – HRSA Pediatric Dental Program, $1.5 Million (2007-2010)
  • Dr. Connie Mobley – NIH NIDDK, $312,000 (2004-2010)
  • Dr. Connie Mobley – HRSA Dental Faculty Loan Repayment Plan, $1.7 Million (2010-2015)
  • Dr. Michael Neubauer – Mountain West CTR-IN Idea Pilot Grant, $16,800 (2013-2014)
  • Dr. Robin Reinke – Dental Trade Alliance, $15,000 (2013-2014)
  • Dr. Foeng Tham – Periogen Oral Rinse Study, $43,806 (2013-2014)
  • Dr. Wendy Woodall - Mountain West CTR-IN Idea Pilot Grant, $54,990 (2013-2014)


2001 — Dr. E. Steven Smith
2003 — Dr. Patrick J. Ferrillo Jr.
2006 — Dr. Richard H. Carr Jr., interim
2006 — Dr. Victor A. Sandoval, interim
2007 — Dr. Karen P. West