UTHealth celebrates opening of new School of Dentistry building

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HOUSTON – (June 8, 2012) – The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Dentistry celebrated the opening of its new building at 7500 Cambridge Street and East Road in the UT Research Park.

The new home of The University of Texas School of Dentistry, a part of UTHealth. Photo Credit: Brian Schnupp

The new home of The University of Texas School of Dentistry, a part of UTHealth. Photo Credit: Brian Schnupp

The new $155 million building is located on the South Campus of the Texas Medical Center – exactly one mile south of the pink granite building that served as home to the UTHealth School of Dentistry for nearly 60 years.

"As a dentist, educator and alumnus of this school, I'm especially grateful to the people of Texas for this new building, which represents a major investment in oral health for the 21st century and beyond," said John A. Valenza, D.D.S., dean of the UTHealth School of Dentistry. "We’ve dedicated a lot of our attention and energy to this project – especially this past year – but now it’s full speed ahead fulfilling our mission of excellence in education, patient care and research."

The six-story, 300,000-square-foot building will allow the School of Dentistry to train more dentists, dental hygienists and dental specialists, incorporate new technology into that training, increase the school’s capacity to assess more patients in its clinics and also expand its research enterprise.

“This marks a momentous occasion in the history of the UTHealth School of Dentistry,” said Giuseppe Colasurdo, M.D., president ad interim of UTHealth. “In preparation for the opening of this remarkable new facility, Dr. Valenza worked with faculty and staff to redesign the curriculum and introduce innovative training experiences for students at every level. Now, as we open the doors to the school’s new home, it’s ready to soar to new heights with state-of-the-art facilities and innovative, evidence-based curricula and teaching methods.”

The dedication and self-guided tours were chronicled on Twitter. To read comments from the speakers and guests and see photos from the day’s events, visit www.Twitter.com/UTSDhouston or www.Twitter.com/UTHealth and search hashtag #UTdental.

UTHealth’s Dr. Valenza, Dr. Colasurdo and Kenneth Shine, M.D., executive vice chancellor of the Office of Health Affairs of The University of Texas System are among those who participated in the ribbon cutting. Photo Credit: Dwight Andrews

UTHealth’s Dr. Valenza, Dr. Colasurdo and Kenneth Shine, M.D., executive vice chancellor of the Office of Health Affairs of The University of Texas System are among those who participated in the ribbon cutting. Photo Credit: Dwight Andrews

Enrollment in the Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) program is expected to increase by approximately 20 percent beginning with the August 2012 incoming class. The increased enrollment, UTHealth leaders say, will ultimately improve access to dental care in the state.

Currently, nearly 500 students attend the school, which offers programs in dentistry, dental hygiene, six dental specialties and two general dentistry residency programs. Texas ranks 44th in the number of dentists per 10,000 population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With new technology, students will use simulation mannequins and virtual patients to learn about and prepare for treating different and complex dental conditions. Students also can observe various procedures through video cameras and other multi-media. "Simulation provides a student-centered learning environment where they can safely practice their skills, leading them to be more competent practitioners,” said Harold Henson, director of clinical simulation at UTHealth School of Dentistry.

The student clinics are an important part of each student’s training. These clinics allow students to gain valuable hands-on experience caring for patients while offering affordable adult, pediatric and complex dental care. Faculty members supervise students and assist with patient needs and treatment.

“We expect to be able to assess more patients and expand our services with the new design of treatment areas and up-to-date technology in the new building in comparison to our old location,” said Robert Cederberg, D.D.S., associate dean for patient care at the School of Dentistry. “Patient care is an important component in training our students and the School of Dentistry offers Houstonians and others in Southeast Texas an affordable dental care home.” 

The new building also will allow UT Dentists, the faculty practice at UTHealth School of Dentistry, to increase its clinic capacity. The practice will have 14 dental treatment rooms – almost double what it had in its old location in the building some referred to as the “Pink Palace.”

Both student clinic spaces and UT Dentists are now open and accepting appointments.

In addition, research capabilities have been enhanced with newly designed research laboratories and up-to-date equipment.

The School of Dentistry will expand on craniofacial research with the establishment of the UTHealth Center for Craniofacial Disease. “We will develop a center of excellence for craniofacial research, building on existing research and expanding focus on causes of birth defects affecting craniofacial development,” said Jacqueline T. Hecht, Ph.D., associate dean for research at the School of Dentistry. “This focus should produce outcomes that may be translated into better clinical care and perhaps prevention programs.”

The school’s researchers are now located on the fifth floor of the UTHealth Behavioral and Biomedical Sciences Building, which is connected to the School of Dentistry.

The dental school also is home to the Houston Center for Biomaterials and Biomimetics, which aims to design and develop new materials, devices, technologies and procedures through basic science research and clinical trials.

Other areas of research interest and expansion include bone restoration for endodontics (root canal) and minimally invasive techniques for treating oral bacteria and conditions.

In 2009, The University of Texas Board of Regents approved the plan for the building and construction began in December of that year. The building was funded with UT System and UTHealth funds, as well as tuition revenue bonds authorized by the Texas Legislature. Major funding also came from the school’s Open to Health initiative. School of Dentistry alumni and supporters contributed $9.4 million toward the new building, plus another $7.3 million for scholarships, faculty endowments and community outreach activities. To recognize the supporters and donors of the new building, a donor wall is located on the first floor of the School of Dentistry.

Adjacent to the new building is UTHealth’s first conference center, The Denton A. Cooley, M.D. and Ralph C. Cooley, D.D.S. University Life Center. The Cooley Center, a 14,000-square-foot conference center, provides classroom and conference space for UTHealth schools and activities.

Among the generous donors, Denton A. Cooley, M.D., surgeon-in-chief, founder and president emeritus of the Texas Heart Institute at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital, made a gift to the university in memory of his father, a 1908 alumnus of the dental school. The gift helped to establish The Cooley University Life Center and the Ralph C. Cooley, D.D.S., Distinguished Professorship in Biomaterials at the UTHealth School of Dentistry.

WHR Architects of Houston designed both buildings. Hensel Phelps Construction Company served as the general contractor. More than 1,700 jobs were created through the construction of the new dental school building and the University Life Center.

Other facts about the new School of Dentistry building:

  • The new multipurpose laboratory will serve as both a preclinical laboratory and a high-tech classroom for presentations.
  • The endodontic clinic is the first in the country to have endodontic microscopes in both student and graduate clinics, all with video cameras to enable faculty to monitor patient treatment.
  • The School of Dentistry has more than 300 total dental operatories in its clinics and has been designed to add up to 24 additional operatories.
  • The school has one of the few school-based clinical settings specifically designed for patients with special needs. The Fondren Foundation Special Patient Clinic provides care for patients with medical, physical and other special needs that impact their dental care.

Jade Waddy
Media Hotline: 713-500-3030