The Best Dental Schools in Illinois

Dentistry is a growing field, especially as more people in the United States are understanding the importance of good oral health. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for dentists is expected to grow by about 3% in the next decade. Plus, dentistry offers many professional benefits, too. Dentists enjoy salaries of about $164K per year, and many have the flexibility to own private practices. 

Illinois has three top dental schools that offer different yet outstanding educational experiences while teaching their students to provide top-notch patient care. Admissions decisions to dental schools are usually based on a candidate’s cumulative accomplishments and include a review of GPA, the quality of undergraduate education, the strength of recommendation letters, and participation in volunteer work and community service. In addition, some colleges require interviews and job shadowing, and most expect applicants to take the DAT (Dental Aptitude Test). 

The best dental schools in Illinois are listed below in the order of acceptance rate. The College of Dentistry at the University of Illinois of Chicago is at the top of the list, with only 4.9% of students being admitted. The Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine, located in the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove, also has a tough acceptance rate of just 6.0%. At the southern end of the state, Southern Illinois University’s School of Dental Medicine admits 7.9% of applicants. 


3. Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine (Alton, IL)

Located in the rural community of Alton, the School of Dental Medicine at Southern Illinois University offers students a rural setting that is still just 30 minutes from St. Louis. Besides, it’s the only dental school within a 200-mile radius of this major metropolitan center and is Illinois’s only dental school outside of the Chicago area. 

SIU’s D.M.D. program is an exceptional value for several reasons. First, it has the lowest tuition among the dental schools in Illinois. Second, the small student body—only about 200 total students with an average entering class of 50—ensures a low student-teacher ratio. And finally, students benefit from the most up-to-date oral health technology that is available in the SIU Main Dental Clinic in Alton. 

Students who choose SIU’s School of Dental Medicine will have many chances to develop their skills in diverse patient care. Although first- and second-year students work in the Simulation Lab in the beginning, third- and fourth-year students have rotations through clinical experiences working with many population groups. For example, year-3 students work in SIU’s Special Need Clinic and have off-campus opportunities to provide care to Special Olympics participants and area patients with developmental disabilities. 

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the students at SIU have continued to impact local communities through virtual dental education outreach. For instance, throughout the National Children’s Dental Month in February 2021, 38 students from the School of Dental Medicine virtually met with 600 elementary-age children from seven area schools to educate them about how to take care of their teeth. In this way, SIU encourages its students to find new solutions to community dental health problems. 

SIU’s faculty are dedicated to their students post-graduation, too, and actively help them pursue their career goals. For example, students who are particularly interested in academic research can participate in summer research programs. Among the SIU alumni, about half have opened their own private practices after successfully completing the D.M.D. program. Another 25% went on to post-graduate specialty programs at other universities and hospitals. And finally, about a quarter of SIU’s dental graduates pursued careers in the military, research, or public health services. 

Since the school is state-funded, it gives admission preference to Illinois residents. Actually, about 98% of SIU’s dental students are from Illinois. Furthermore, although bachelor’s degrees in one of the sciences (such as biology or chemistry) are preferred, applicants are only required to have 90 semester hours of undergraduate coursework as long as they meet certain science and English prerequisites. Moreover, all prerequisite courses must be taken at institutions in the U.S. or Canada.


2. Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine (Downers Grove, IL)

Midwestern University
photo via Wikimedia Commons

Midwestern University, which was founded in 1900, is known for its D.M.D. dental program and other health-related disciplines like medicine, pharmacy, optometry, and psychology. In fact, the entire university is solely devoted to training tomorrow’s healthcare professionals through a curriculum that combines coursework with research and service opportunities. The College of Dental Medicine prepares students to become dentists, of course, but also to pursue related careers like dental education and administration. 

Like all of the programs at Midwestern University, the College of Dental Medicine follows the principles of its One Health Initiative. Basically, this philosophy, which is at the core of the school’s interprofessional curriculum, stresses that all life—from humans and animals to the environment—are connected. And therefore, what affects one affects all. As a result, Midwestern’s faculty understand the need to connect with fellow colleagues in the other sciences and medicine to gain a more holistic view of modern dentistry and healthcare. Consequently, students should expect to engage in interprofessional research and outreach opportunities. 

What’s more, The Scientist magazine has declared that Midwestern University is the country’s 6th best among non-commercial and academic research institutions in the “Best Places to Work in Academia” list. In addition, the scope of the faculty’s grant research is diverse, with funders ranging from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation to groups like the American Heart Association and the American Physical Therapy Association. 

Although the class size is small at just 130 students, the D.M.D. program takes a team-oriented and interdisciplinary approach to hands-on education. That is, the college’s faculty encourages active learning through applied experiences and expects students to develop their leadership skills, too. And the faculty are dedicated to their students’ education, as proven by the college’s 100% graduate rate. Even more importantly, 100% of the program’s graduates go on to pass their national board exams.

In addition to clinical rotations at community-based clinics, students are also expected to take classes in the sciences, including behavioral sciences. Technical writing courses are required, too, so that graduates are able to clearly communicate with their patients and fellow healthcare providers. 

Admission to Midwestern University’s D.M.D program is competitive, and the college prefers that applicants have a minimum GPA of 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale) for both their cumulative undergraduate coursework and their combined science classes. Plus, an overall DAT score of 110 is recommended with individual section scores of 18 or higher preferred. And although not required, it is best if one of the two required letters of recommendation come from a professional with a D.O., M.D., D.D.S, or D.M.D. degree. And finally, all applicants must be fingerprinted and pass a criminal background check, since the college stresses ethical practices in the dental field.


1. University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry (Chicago, IL)

University of Illinois at Chicago
photo via Wikimedia Commons

At the top of the list of best dental schools in Illinois, the College of Dentistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago is dedicated to being a leader in oral health research and education while providing the best dental care to the surrounding community. In addition to a D.M.D., students can also pursue a PhD or Master of Science in Oral Sciences and other advanced specialty training programs. Moreover, U of I also has a joint degree program that awards a D.M.D. with a Master of Public Health in Community Health Sciences, offered in connection with the School of Public Health. These flexible degree options illustrate U of I’s commitment to leadership in the health care profession. 

U of I’s College of Dentistry is larger than the other dental schools in Illinois, too. The college supports more than 430 students across its various degree programs. Plus, the school is also the biggest provider of dental care in the state and serves over 30,000 patients each year.

The faculty at U of I are DEDICATED to research. And as a result, the College of Dentistry has been labeled as a Level 1 research institution. This designation only applies to the country’s colleges and universities that have the most well-funded research agendas that are making the biggest impact in their fields. As such, about 40 of the college’s faculty receive approximately $5 million in grant funding every year, demonstrating the noteworthy effect that U of I is making in dentistry and allied health professions. 

Furthermore, the college is involved in several unique research studies that will change the future of dentistry. For example, the Center for Wound Healing and Tissue Regeneration is studying how to relieve chronic wounds in the mouth that lead to missing teeth. Likewise, they are improving treatments for cancer and other oral diseases that affect millions of Americans. Even more, research teams are studying the use of biomaterials and bioengineering to regenerate teeth, leading to substantial quality of life improvements for their patients. 

Because of U of I’s dedication to research and academic rigor, when graduates level the College of Dentistry, they are well-positioned for successful careers. For instance, 100% of graduates pass their board exams. Plus, on other science and clinical exams, they score much higher than the national average. 

Students who wish to apply to U of I’s College of Dentistry should expect a tough application process. To be competitive, students should take several upper-level undergraduate courses in advanced sciences, such as anatomy, physiology, and microbiology. Additionally, although no minimum DAT score is required, students are encouraged to take it the year prior to applying so that scores remain relevant and up to date. And since the school emphasizes community service, the most successful applicants will have a history of volunteer work and will have job shadowed a U.S.-based dentist for at least 100 hours.

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