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 fall of 2002.
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 63,000 patient visits, many from people who would not be able to afford care in the private sector.
Since 2005, the UNLV SDM 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)
In its short history, the school has developed a national reputation for innovation in its curriculum. For example:
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.
Last year, the school received approximately 2,300 applications for its class of 75-80 students, attracting some of the top national applicants. Additionally, each year about 40–50% of the school's graduates are accepted into some of the most competitive and prestigious specialty programs in the country.
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.
To date, SDM professors have obtained more than $15 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)