High Point University adds dental medicine, oral health degree

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The supply of dentists in North Carolina appears likely to increase over the next few years, with High Point University’s plans to start a dental school. The School of Dental Medicine and Oral Health is slated to open in 2023 with an initial enrollment of 32 students. HPU’s plan is to eventually have annual classes of about 45 students in a four-year program leading to a doctoral degree.

“HPU is investing $150 million to build the dental school of the future. We are preparing health care professionals for the world as it is going to be,” High Point President Nido Qubein says. “Our founding dean, Dr. Scott DeRossi, is strategically assembling his team, and as we’ve done with other health care programs, we will follow the guidance of our accrediting bodies and swiftly build up to reach our capacity enrollment of 180 students.”

DeRossi is the former dean of UNC Chapel Hill’s Adams School of Dentistry. He stepped down in January to return to a faculty role.

Qubein says more dentists are needed because fewer than 75% of U.S. adults receive oral health care as recommended. “We expect that our clinics and our graduates will help to close those gaps in our state and beyond.”

The Chapel Hill program, which started in 1950, graduates about 80 students annually. The only other N.C. dental school opened at East Carolina University in Greenville in 2011. It has about 50 graduates annually.

“We are hopeful that many of these students will stay in North Carolina and practice in these shortage areas,” says Alec Parker, executive director of the N.C. Dental Society. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported in 2019 that an estimated 2.4 million N.C. residents lacked adequate dental care. There are residents in virtually every N.C. county living in areas that have a shortage of dental health professionals, according to the government agency.

The number of dental providers in North Carolina increased from 2,207 in 1979 to 5,112 in 2017, according to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at UNC Chapel Hill. Three counties — Hyde, Gates and Tyrrell — had no dental practices, and the state’s dentist-to-population ratio is below the national average.

The Dental Society’s Parker says North Carolina offers “many opportunities to help people lead healthier lives in the places that need it most. We are hopeful a new dental school, working in tandem with our existing two dental schools, will help provide increased access to care to patients across the state.”

High Point officials are working with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and the Commission on Dental Accreditation to “ensure that we are on target with the initial application process for predoctoral and specialty dental programs,” Qubein adds.

The dental facilities will be built near Congdon Hall, home of HPU’s health sciences and pharmacy schools. 

High Point enrolls more than 4,000 students who come from all 50 states and 34 countries, Qubein says. Oral health isn’t the only thing on his expansion calendar. “HPU will be announcing more programs this year,” he says, “so you won’t have to wait long. But you can assume we will be breaking new ground both literally and figuratively with additional programs.”

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