SALT LAKE CITY — Beginning the fall of 2013, the University of Utah will open a School of Dentistry with an inaugural class of 20 students.
The university's Board of Trustees voted Tuesday to approve the school, which is one of the first colleges to be formed at the U. in decades. The school and a building yet-to-be constructed on the university campus was made possible by $37 million in private pledges, with $30 million coming from a single donor who wishes to remain anonymous.
For more than 30 years, the university has offered a regional dental education program, in which students attended their first year of dental education at the U.'s School of Medicine but completed the final three years at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. A portion of the students' tuition is reimbursed if they agree to return to Utah to practice.
Dr. Glen Hanson, interim co-dean of the School of Dentistry, said the new school will provide a research intensive experience for students, taking advantage of the expertise and facilities of the U.'s "world renowned" schools of medicine and pharmacy.
"Now the School of Dentistry can tie into that expertise," he said.
The wide array of resources will enable the dental school to conduct research and teach students about pain management, the role of genetics in dental disease and dental health in the context of overall health.
"This is the first new college the University of Utah had in over 50 years. As we went through this academic exercise, we were sometimes told, 'I don't know how to do this' because no one remembers the last one. We kind of did it by the seat of our pants," Hanson said.
"It turned out very well. The Academic Senate was very supportive. It was very well received by the Board of Trustees."
The Utah State Board of Regents must give final approval for the program.
Dr. G. Lynn Powell, who has long led the University's regional dental program, is the principal interim dean, Hanson said. Powell and Hanson earned dental degrees. Hanson is a professor in the U.'s College of Pharmacy and is director of the Utah Addiction Center.
Powell, Hanson said, deserves "a lot of credit for moving this forward."
Two sites are under consideration for the School of Dentistry building, which is expected to be completed and fully equipped during the 2013-2014 academic year. The facility will be constructed to accommodate classes of up to 50 students.
"Then, we're ready to roll," Hanson said.
For the first year of the school, dental students will attend classes in the School of Medicine as they have under the arrangement with Creighton University.
Hanson said the new School of Dentistry will be unique in the respect it will have no debt when it opens its doors thanks to generous donors.
The new school will also be a boon to Utah students, many of whom pay higher tuition rates while attending dental schools out of state or when enrolling in private dental schools.
Tuition for the U.'s School of Dentistry will be comparable to that assessed by the School of Medicine, which should encourage Utah's best students to stay in state to obtain a dental education, he said.
Presently, about 150 students from Utah attend dental education programs out of state. Last year, the private, nonprofit Roseman University opened a school of dentistry in South Jordan.
Establishing a school of dentistry has been a high priority for the University of Utah for many years, said Dr. Richard Buchanan, dean of Roseman University College of Dental Medicine.
Given the state's high demand for educational education, Buchanan said both schools are needed.
The inaugural class at Roseman University was 64 students. More than 1,500 students have applied to the school, which plans to expand its classes to 80 students, he said.
Between the two schools, the state should be able to capture the state's best students, he said. Across the country, the nation's dental schools are not keeping up with replacing the number of dentists that are retiring from the profession.
He said he hopes that the two dental schools can team up on public-private partnerships in community service.
The approaches of the school will differ in the respect that Roseman prepares dentists for primary care while the U.'s School of Dentistry will have an intensive research emphasis.
"There's plenty of need," Buchanan said, explaining that private, nonprofit schools have become safety valves for underserved populations.
"We welcome opportunities to collaborate with them (the U.) in any way," he said.