Kansas City University Breaks Ground on New Dental College

Dentistry Today


Kansas City University (KCU) held a ceremonial groundbreaking for its College of Dental Medicine on its campus in Joplin, Missouri, on May 22. The college will address the significant and growing oral health needs of the four-state region of southwest Missouri, northwest Arkansas, northeast Oklahoma, and southeast Kansas.

“KCU has proven success in educating physicians who will remain in the region to practice medicine,” said March B. Hahn, DO, president and CEO. “We are proud to serve the community with a college of dental medicine that will educate our next generation of doctors of dental medicine and address critical oral healthcare needs as well.”

The regions oral health needs are compounded by a drought of dentists, KCU said. Nearly all counties with a 125-mile radius of Joplin qualify as Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas (DHPSAs) by the US Health Resources and Services Administration, KCU said.

Missouri needs 376 additional dentists to remove its DHPSA designations, Oklahoma requires 166, and Arkansas and Kansas both need more than a hundred dentists to address these shortages. With only three dental schools in the four-state area, there is a challenge in training and adequate number of dentists to meet these demands, KCU said.

Fourth-year dental students will provide comprehensive oral health care at clinical partner sites to patients throughout the region, KCU said, with 40,000 to 50,000 patient visits annually.

Founding dean Linda C. Niessen, DMD, MPH, MPP, announced plans for an innovative, community-based education program that will work interprofessionally in addressing medical and dental healthcare needs.

“It is impossible for a community to be healthy if its citizens do not have good oral health. We know that periodontal or gum disease can affect diabetes, contribute to heart disease, and respiratory disease and even Alzheimer’s disease,” Niessen said.

“As Joplin builds its future workforce, children can’t learn when they are suffering from toothache pain,” she continued. “The KCU College of Dental Medicine will help address these issues.”

The design has been adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic for added safety measures and to address future public health concerns and disease transmission. The first class of 80 students is expected to be seated in August 2023.

Construction is expected to cost more than $80 million. In one of the largest fundraising efforts in the country, KCU said, it committed $40 million toward funding the project with the remainder coming from philanthropic efforts. Donations include:

  • $10 million from Harry M. Cornell Jr.
  • $6 million from the Sunderland Foundation of Kansas City
  • $9 million from the Patterson Family Foundation of Kansas City
  • $2 million from the JE and LE Mabee Foundation of Tulsa, Oklahoma

Also, a $10 million from the Joplin Regional Medical School Alliance is 90% complete.

KCU further said that the college will enhance the university’s role as an economic driver in the multi-state region and specifically in Joplin. It expects the college to generate a financial impact of $45 annually, support more than 200 jobs, and generate at least $1.7 million in state and local taxes.

“KCU’s innovative, community-based program will help bridge the gap between medical and dental care, improve integration of oral health into primary care, and expand access to preventive services in our community,” said Rudy Farber, chair of the JRMSA fundraising committee.

“The health benefits combined with the financial impact will support the entire region for years to come,” Farber said.

The groundbreaking took place on the tenth anniversary of an EF 5 tornado in 2011 that killed more than 160, left more than 1,150 injured, and underscored the need for broader healthcare services in the community, KCU said.

As Joplin and the surrounding region remembered the tragedy, KCU said it is grateful for the outpouring of community support for this project and is dedicated to honoring those who were lost that day by improving the health of generations to come.

“We are once again humbled to be part of the Phoenix that continues to rise since tragedy struck 10 years ago today,” said Hahn. “We honor the determination and perseverance toward a common vision to make this city even stronger and more resilient.”

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