Celebrating Fifty Years

School of Dental Medicine
School of Dental Medicine
School of Dental Medicine located in the Shadow Lane Dental School building

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. Four years later, it was reaccredited with seven major commendations.

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

In 2005, the school began offering a 24-month graduate program in orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics to 16 highly qualified dentists per year. A new 44,000-square-foot building, scheduled for completion in fall 2007, will house advanced education/specialty programs in orthodontics, endodontics, pediatric dentistry, oral/maxillofacial surgery, and periodontics.

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 3,000 applications for its class of 75 students, attracting some of the top national applicants. Additionally, 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 and local assisted living centers, providing nutritional information as well as toothbrushes, toothpaste, and brushing/flossing instructions. To date, more than 25,000 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.
  • SDM students recently organized Smiles for Success, a program to treat physically and emotionally abused women from the local community.
  • 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

SDM professors have obtained more than $6 million in competitive grant funding, including:

  • To fund the Crackdown on Cancer program, the late Dr. E. Steven Smith received $5.2 million from the Fund for a Healthy Nevada (administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) and Trust Fund for Public Health (administered by the Tobacco Master Settlement).
  • Dean Patrick Ferrillo received a $1 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration for the advancement of technology sponsored by U.S. Senator Harry Reid.
  • Dr. Connie Mobley received $240,000 from the National Institutes of Health for a multi-site trial of diabetes prevention in U.S. middle schools.
  • Dr. Mildred McClain received $20,000 from the American Medical Student Association for health professional training.
  • Dr. Victor Sandoval and Dr. Mildred McClain received two grants totaling $10,000 from the American Dental Association Foundation/Harris Fund for Children's Dental Health for supplies for oral health prevention activities with "at-risk" children in Las Vegas.

Continuous Strides

In just five years, the School of Dental Medicine has made great strides. Dr. Karen P. West, who took over as current dean in April 2007, will focus on promoting research in biomedicine, population-based clinical studies, oral health promotion, oral cancer prevention, and education. In the years ahead, the school will continue to develop its reputation as a world-class institution where dentists send their children to become dentists.


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