The Best Dental Schools in Tennessee

Dentists are responsible for diagnosing problems with patients’ teeth. To become a dentist, students need to complete advanced education and clinical training necessary for professional practice. They remove decay, repair damaged teeth, and examine x-rays to diagnose problems.

A variety of equipment including x-ray machines, drills, scalpels, and scanners are used to promote good oral health for patients. Each dentist practices differently, with some working at established offices while others start their own practice. Anesthesia, head and neck diseases, braces, and surgical operations are just some of the specialties these professionals can focus on. Outside of practicing dentistry, dental school graduates can go into research or teach students.

Before they start practicing, dentists must be licensed in the state where they work. This requires a Doctor of Dental Surgery or Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry degree from an accredited program. Along with awarding degrees, dental schools prepare graduates to pass written and clinical exams.

Dental students study coursework in anesthesia, anatomy, periodontics, and radiology. Dental programs also provide clinical experience to work directly with patients under the supervision of a licensed professional. Through a variety of activities, students learn essential skills such as communication, attention to detail, dexterity, leadership, and problem-solving. 

As a result of the extensive education and training required to practice dentistry, these professionals earn a median annual salary of $164,000. The demand for dentists will continue to increase as the population ages and research links oral health to overall health. In Tennessee, there are over 2,500 dental practices and around 6,800 practitioners. Students hoping to study in the state have their choice of two dental schools, including UT and Meharry.

Here are the best dental schools in Tennessee, as ranked by their acceptance rates according to BeMo.

2. University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Dentistry (Memphis, TN)

Founded in 1878, the UT College of Dentistry is the oldest dental college in the southern US and one of the first nationwide. Since its inception, the school has been dedicated to providing a top-tier professional, graduate, and post-graduate education. UT is also known for its state-of-the-art dental research and public service that contributes to the overall health of the Memphis-area community.

Dental students study various basic sciences, including biochemistry, microbiology, pathology, histology, and anatomy. In the later years, they learn more advanced topics from pain control to oral radiology. The final two years in the dentistry program are spent in clinical courses. After technical courses that relate the basic sciences to clinical practice, students can provide dental services to patients under faculty supervision. Clinics cover a wide range of oral healthcare services that provide essential technical and interpersonal skills. Then, using approved teaching courses, students learn how to provide care.

UT utilizes the latest technology to provide the best education for dental students. DentSim, an advanced dental simulator, was added to the preclinical curriculum to enhance learning. The group of 40 workstations contains high-speed handpieces, suction tips, and patient manikins. While students practice their technique, the technology monitors their actions and can provide feedback. This allows for individualized, quicker, and hands-on learning of critical dentistry skills. 

Outside of lectures and clinical courses, research is an integral part of the academic experience at UT. The university receives nearly $100 million in research funding, with support from NIH grants and other sponsors. In addition, the school has collaborative relationships with well-known healthcare partners from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare. 

These industry relationships pave the way for innovative patient-focused research with a clinical focus. For example, UT conducts clinical product trials in partnership with dental product development companies for eventual use on patients. The dental research conducted at the University of Tennessee seeks to improve the quality of life for patients.

Innovations from both faculty and students are used to improve oral health around the globe. Their work is supported by federal, local, and industrial grants. In addition, students in the College of Dentistry are active in research and focus on topics from appliance sealants to stem cell biology. The Hinman Student Research Symposium, an annual presentation, highlights the research projects of dental students throughout the department. Along with recognizing student achievement, the event promotes careers in dental research and education.

The numerous student organizations at the University of Tennessee allow students to build relationships with other dental students and mentors. Honor societies, research groups, fraternities, governing bodies, and other student associations provide opportunities for students to develop personally and professionally. 

The Student National Dental Association strives to promote minority enrollment in dental schools across the nation. In addition, they encourage the delivery of dental health to everyone, especially the underserved. Dental students organize programs in the community to educate and involve the public. Along with exploring their passion for community service, the Student National Dental Association helps students develop critical interpersonal skills.

Students studying at the UT College of Dentistry have access to a wide range of financial resources. Over 75 student awards, need-based and otherwise, are available for incoming and continuing students. These scholarships are based on applicant background, interest, and achievement. 

The Doris Costello Bowyer Memorial Leadership Award is given each year to a dental student with demonstrated leadership. Whether this is participation in student organizations or campus activities, the recognized individual has proven their outstanding ability. In addition, the scholarship recognizes students who have a positive influence on classmates and faculty along with demonstrated professionalism.

1. Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry (Nashville, TN)

Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

The Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry aims to serve their community as dental professionals. Dedicated to excellence in teaching, research, and service, Meharry is at the forefront of the quest for quality healthcare for everyone. 

To fulfill the goal of global health equity, the college admits a diverse body of students who demonstrate their commitment to service. After graduating, many alumni focus on providing care for the underserved, whether they work in the military or private practice. Thus, Meharry achieves founder Dr. Hubbard’s vision as one of two historically Black dental schools in the nation and a beacon for underserved populations.

Meharry has grown in reputation and ability to keep up with the latest innovations and the community that it is dedicated to serving. Each year, the dental program receives nearly 2,000 applications and admits approximately 60 students

Every Meharry student knows that they are expected to expand upon the achievements of those before them. Therefore, the school provides plenty of opportunities and an encouraging environment, faculty, and campus who are dedicated to their success. The curriculum’s strategy has remained the same, requiring first-year students to learn basic science requirements through the School of Medicine. This practical approach, used for nearly a century, encourages interdisciplinary collaboration and an exchange of ideas between professionals.

Dental students have their choice from over 40 student organizations. Including the American Association of Public Health Dentistry, American Association of Women Dentists, American Dental Education Association, and many more, these groups encourage camaraderie and personal growth. The Ewell-Neil Dental Research Society seeks to foster an academic appreciation for oral health research among both dental students and faculty. The group provides for research opportunities and careers within the dental school and nearby institutions. With a guarantee of lifetime membership, the society’s 300+ members continue to grow professionally even after graduation. Along with career opportunities, student organizations allow students to develop and participate in community involvement, social events, and cultural activities. From special interest groups to service organizations, there is something for every dental student.

Meharry’s Nashville campus was designed with both students and community members in mind. Housing patient clinics, research laboratories, teaching facilities, and educational programs, the school has no shortage of space for learning. In addition, each module contains waiting rooms, offices, and x-ray facilities to educate students. Seminar rooms are available for instruction and consultation. The campus design enables the school to provide oral health care for many Tennessee residents.

Meharry receives millions in research funding each year from the NIH, federal agencies, and other sponsors to support its goal of increasing health span along with lifespan. Endodontics, orthodontics, pediatric dentistry, restorative dentistry, oral and maxillofacial surgery, and oral diagnostic sciences are the department’s main research focuses. 

By encouraging students to engage in research, the school ensures that research training is fully integrated with its academic programs. The Dentistry Center of Excellence, a nationally recognized resource, is known for its strong clinical curriculum and research ability. The facility focuses on important research topics from oral biology to diabetes. In addition, the center provides educational opportunities for disadvantaged students through educational programs, service delivery, and outreach programs.
As a result of the impressive resources and opportunities for students, the School of Dentistry has placed 100% of graduates in the past 5 years. This includes the pursuit of further education, post-doc programs, and employment.

Furthermore, the school’s dedication to increasing diversity in the dental field can be seen by the alumni. For example, 40% of active African American dentists graduated from Meharry, with the vast majority practicing in underserved communities. The National Board of Dental Examiners certification examinations, a measure of student learning and achievement, allows dentists to practice professionally. An average of 82% of Meharry graduates taking the exam pass on their first try.