Health & Science

UTHealth School Of Dentistry Moves To New Home

The University of Texas School of Dentistry is moving into a new home in the Texas Medical Center. The six-story building is off Old Spanish Trail, south of the VA Hospital. Class sizes are growing and the school needs more space.

Classrooms are equipped with up-to-date technology systems and lighting. Image provided by the UT School of Dentistry.

The dental school’s first home, a pink granite building in the heart of the medical center, was over 50 years old.

The dean of the school, John Valenza, says that among other issues, it needed to be completely rewired for the Internet, and renovation was simply too expensive.

“The classrooms were not large enough to hold the class size that we’re growing to here, which is about 100. So it was a matter of size, it was a matter of technology. Our patient care clinics were very cramped, very small and not really patient-oriented and patient-friendly. So this building is vastly improved over that.”

The new building cost $155 million and was partially financed through bonds authorized by the state legislature.

Wider operatories in the Special Patient Clinic to accomodate wheelchairs. Image provided by the UT School of Dentistry.

As part of that deal, the school promised to graduate more dentists.

Texas ranks 44th among 50 states in the availability of dentists.

Richard Valachovic attended today’s ceremony.

He leads the American Dental Education Association, which represents the 64 dental schools in the U.S.

He says that starting in the 1980s, some dental schools closed and others cut their class sizes, in the mistaken belief that the country didn’t need so many dentists:

“There was this general assumption that we didn’t need dentists anymore, because of community-based fluoride, routine patient visits and getting kids in early and so on and so forth. Well, in certain populations yes that happened but the reality is that dental cavities remain the most prominent health condition of childhood – five times more prevalent than hay fever or asthma.”

Endodontic Clinic microscopes
Endodontic Clinic microscopes. Image provided by the UT School of Dentistry.

New dental schools have opened since 2000, and like the one here, others are increasing their class sizes.

Allison Whitman just finished her first year at the school.

“Actually, I’ve wanted to go into dentistry since I was 11 years-old. To me dentistry is the perfect combination of both art and science. There definitely is an artistry to it, sometimes you are building teeth from very little.”

Whitman says she looks forward to practicing on the new high-tech mannequins in the new building.

The mannequins can be programmed to mimic a virtual patient with special problems like diabetes or gum disease. 

From the KUHF Health and Science Desk, I’m Carrie Feibel.