Ann Blackford


College: Dentistry

College of Dentistry Celebrates 50 Years of Excellence

Published: Oct 26, 2012

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 26, 2012) − Once the decision was made to incorporate dental education into the University of Kentucky's new medical campus in 1956, a vision of excellence and tradition was put into place by a newly appointed dean and a small group of faculty members who worked to build what is today the UK College of Dentistry. This year, the college is celebrating 50 years of providing superior dental education and healthcare.


Inaugural Dean Alvin L. Morris had a clear goal in mind - build a dental curriculum that departed from the traditional one that focused heavily on surgical treatment of disease and psychomotor skills. Morris believed dentists needed a stronger understanding of systemic/medical health, needed to be able to treat soft tissue conditions in the mouth, and needed to have just as much skill in thinking as they did in using their hands. He changed the focus to be more balanced and worked hard to better integrate the basic biomedical sciences to the clinical dental sciences.


"Starting a college in an empty cornfield was pretty exciting," said Stephen Dachi, then chair of the Department of Oral Diagnosis and Oral Medicine. "But most importantly, we worked together as a team to develop a philosophy and a curriculum we wanted, the kinds of professionals we wanted to educate, and the professional environment we wanted to foster in Kentucky."


The college opened for classes in the fall of 1962, starting out with a small class of 25 students. Unlike other dental schools at that time, UK adopted a diagonal curriculum, introducing students immediately to clinical experience along with basic science rather than waiting until their third year which was the traditional approach at the time the school was founded. Every student was given a key to the dental building so they could use laboratories or the library at any hour.


Within in a few months of opening, UK began to attract international attention. The Journal of Dental Education devoted its entire December 1962 edition to the new dental school, calling it "the first of the second generation of dental schools." Several new schools were in the planning at that time and what UK did was thought to be so revolutionary and so good that it was likely to be emulated by the new schools as they opened- a new generation meaning a new type of curriculum and teaching model.


The College of Dentistry was set on a course of greatness from infancy that continues to this day. The college has made an indelible mark on the local community that extends to the far corners of Kentucky and the world through education, research and service to others.


The Center for Oral Health Research at the College of Dentistry supports multidisciplinary basic, applied, clinical and epidemiological research in partnerships with other colleges across campus and nationally. The clear link between oral health and overall health serves as a catalyst for many of the Center's research initiatives, such as the "Centering Pregnancy Smiles" program which served 600-800 women and provided dental education and treatments for tooth and gum disease in an effort to prevent pre-term low-birth rate babies.


A collaboration with UK College of Nursing colleagues has implemented the "Heart Health" project focusing on rural patients at risk for cardiovascular disease and implementing behavioral interventions to empower them to lower their risk for a cardiac event.  COHR research projects also engage cardiology collaborators to develop salivary biodiagnostics for coronary artery disease, and gastroenterologists and obstetrical nursing faculty to determine the effect of poor oral health reflecting risk for inflammatory bowel disease gestational diabetes, and adverse pregnancy outcomes.


“The research mission goes back to why the UK College of Dentistry was founded,” said Jeff Ebersole, director of the Center for Oral Health Research. “We have a statewide mandate to improve the oral health of Kentuckians” and our founders believed that research was a major factor to meet this expectation.


The spirit of volunteerism has flourished at the UK College of Dentistry over the decades. Students not only excel academically and grow professionally, but also embrace the college’s mission of improving the healthcare of Kentuckians through outreach and service.


From the early days of the college, faculty and students have gone out into underserved areas of the state to offer dental care to school children.  The first mobile dental unit in the late 1960s, affectionately known as the "Mink Mobile," was named for Dr. John Mink, a founding faculty member in the Department of Pediatric Dentistry who recently retired after 50 years of service to the College.


Over the years, the mobile program expanded into far Eastern, Central and Western Kentucky. It is the largest, dental education based, children’s dental outreach program in the nation. UK currently operates a fleet of four mobile dental clinics and a dental outreach program serving elementary school children and Head Start children in more than 40 Kentucky counties. 


Service to the community-at-large is a tradition firmly rooted in the mission of the college that is carried on today through the many programs of the college, which, in addition to the mobile dental program, includes the nationally recognized Saturday morning clinics that for over 25 years have  provided free clinical checkups for Lexington area children, and the Twilight Clinic that offers pediatric dentistry at a low-cost to countless children who might not otherwise be able to afford basic dental care.


Today, the College of Dentistry has grown into a college leading in innovation, committed to outreach, and boasting more than 2,400 alumni worldwide, all the while remaining true to the mission established by the founders. Currently, the faculty is comprised of 69 full-time and 44 part-time faculty members along with basic science and behavioral science faculty drawn from multiple departments within the College of Medicine. Currently, there are 227 Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) students enrolled for the 2012-2013 academic year and the average class size is 57 students.


The College offers a four-year Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.) degree. In addition, the College offers advanced educational programs leading to specialties in periodontics, oral and maxillofacial surgery, pediatric dentistry, orofacial pain, and orthodontics.  Additionally, the College offers a hospital based general practice residency in dentistry which enhances a dental practitioners’ ability to work with patients who have complex medical histories. In periodontics and orthodontics, students also earn a Master of Science degree from the University of Kentucky Graduate School. Additionally, the option of a master's degree is available in both orofacial pain and pediatric dentistry. The College also offers many annual continuing education courses for practicing dental professionals are an important dimension of the College's educational activities and service to the profession of dentistry.


"The UK College of Dentistry provides a rare and unique environment for students to obtain an outstanding dental education while they also grow to appreciate the importance of professional service for those who are underserved such that they strongly support concepts of social justice," said Sharon Turner, current dean of the UK College of Dentistry. "What we do today is even more relevant than it was 50 years ago and it was Dr. Morris’ vision that has kept us in an enviable position nationally as a dental education institution.”     


Media Contact: Ann Blackford at (859) 312-3587 or


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