The UNLV School of Dental Medicine 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 fall of 2002.

Dental tools

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 dental school and its clinics have recorded more than 70,000 patient visits, many from people who would not be able to afford care in the private sector.

Advanced Education

Since 2005, the dental school has offered highly competitive advanced education programs to 14 residents. The school currently offers the following specialty programs:

  • Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics Residency (6 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:

A student examining a model's teeth
  • Courses are presented in an integrated manner rather than being discipline specific, thus connecting the interrelationship between clinical practice and foundational knowledge
  • To support the school’s vision of “providing world class oral healthcare education while providing for the dental needs of Nevada residents” the curriculum stresses patient-centered care, a progressive, evidence-based and innovative curriculum presented by a world class diverse faculty and staff
  • To prepare graduates to be competent general dentists, the clinical experiences focus on quality dental care, humanistic patient management and appropriate professional/ethical behavior. Great importance is placed on self-assessment, development of critical thinking, and a commitment to lifelong learning.

Competitive Program

Each year, the school receives an average of 1,800 applications for only 80 positions in the predoctoral program. Additionally, 25 to 35 percent of the school’s graduates are accepted into some of the most competitive and prestigious specialty programs in the country.

A dental student in class


  • 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
  • 2019 — Dr. William D. Davenport, Jr., interim
  • 2019 – Dr. Lily T. García
  • 2022 — Dr. James Mah, interim