The US Continues to Dominate the World’s Best Dental Schools in 2021

Richard Gawel


Dental schools in the United States continue to dominate ShanghaiRanking’s Academic Ranking of World Universities report of the top institutions in the world, with eight of the top 10 and 22 of the top 50. Last year, the United States had seven of the top 10 dental schools, after placing eight among the elite in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

This year’s top 10 included:

ShanghaiRanking based its findings on a survey of 1,500 deans, chairs, and heads of faculties and departments of the top 100 universities across a range of subjects. Questions focused on publications in the top tier journals in dentistry, the most influential and credible awards, and researchers who have contributed the most to the field, emphasizing research and reputation.

The University of Michigan

This is the fifth consecutive year that ShanghaiRanking has named the University of Michigan the top dental school in the world. Earlier this year, Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) named it the second best in the world and the top school in the United States.

By the numbers, the School of Dentistry’s class of 2020 saw 1,600 applications with 108 students enrolled, plus one DDS/PhD student. Six of them had master’s degrees before entering. They also had an average GPA of 3.73 and an average DAT score of 22. Plus, 52.8% were male, and 47.2% were female.

“Research at the school informs and advances the dental education and patient care aspects of our mission. This latest high ranking confirms the incredible range and talent of our faculty, researchers, and students who explore a wide variety of science with the ultimate goal of improving oral health,” said dean Laurie McCauley, DDS, MS, PhD.

For example, Michigan researchers have discovered that when the gene DMBT1 is suppressed in head and neck cancer cells, it promotes aggressive invasion and metastasis in laboratory studies and was associated with metastasis in patients. Other researchers have developed a machine learning algorithm to assess an individual patient’s risk of regenerative outcomes after surgical treatments of peri-implantitis.

The School of Dentistry gets significant support for this research too. It placed second among dental schools receiving funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2020, with more than $22.5 million in grants. It was number one in funding specifically from the NIH’s National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, which provided about $20.2 million of that money. Further, Michigan received NIDCR’s largest single award in 2020, at $6.3 million.

“Whether it is translating regenerative medicine into clinical innovations, or discovering the underlying mechanisms of head and neck cancer, we are grateful to see our researchers acknowledged for the quality and quantity of their research,” McCauley said.

University of North Carolina

The Adams School of Dentistry retained 2020’s second-place showing this year. QS ranked it twenty-first in the world earlier this year. It provides $3.6 million in in-kind dental care each year during 90,000 dental visits across four student-led free clinics. It also boasts more than 6,400 alumni in all 50 states and in 27 countries.

“From our leading researchers tackling today’s biggest problems, to our global faculty educating the next generation of integrated health professionals, to our clinicians providing comprehensive oral healthcare in Chapel Hill and beyond, our students and employees are dedicated to passionately serving North Carolina,” said interim dean Julie Story Byerley, MD, MPH.

In addition to its DDS and dental hygiene programs, the school offers graduate and advanced dental education programs, an oral and craniofacial biomedicine PhD, and the Advanced Standing Program for International Dentists, as well as continuing education for dentists already in the field.

Research efforts include the DELTA Translational ReCharge Center, which provides turnkey services to clinical and biomedical investigators at the university and to offsite investigators, and the General and Oral Health (GoHealth) Center, which was founded to explore the relationship between oral and systemic diseases through clinical research.

Plus, the school is a founding member of the DentAlliance, which includes the King’s College London Faculty of Dentistry, Oral & Craniofacial Sciences, the National University of Singapore Faculty of Dentistry, and the University of Melbourne Dental School. This five-year partnership aims to transform education and curriculum development, pursue transformative research, and enhance professional practice.

The school’s robust research program is timely as well. It recently launched a clinical trial to test whether mouthwash can reduce a person’s risk of spreading coronavirus. Also, its researchers collaborated with international colleagues to discover that SARS-CoV-2 infects cells in the mouth, which may explain COVID-19 symptoms including taste loss, dry mouth, and blistering. 

“Our faculty are crafting the future of oral health education right here in the Adams School of Dentistry,” said Story Byerley. “We are preparing oral health professionals for a future we can only dream about.”

King’s College London

The Faculty of Dentistry, Oral & Craniofacial Sciences at King’s College London (KCL) is the only dental school from Europe to place in the top 10. This is the second year in a row that it has placed third, after ranking fourth in 2019 and fifth in 2018. In this year’s QS rankings, the school tied for fifth place with Tokyo Medical and Dental University.

“We are delighted to have maintained our position in the Academic Ranking of World Universities as one of the top three dental faculties globally and, significantly, the highest ranked faculty in Europe by some distance,” said executive dean Mike Curtis.

KCL’s five-year BDS program graduates more than 150 dentists each year. Students must complete A*AA level work or its equivalent prior to admission. Coursework entails basic science related to clinical practice with an emphasis on whole patient care. Partnerships with the Guy’s, King’s College, and St. Thomas hospital programs ensure real-world training.

“Unlike many other global rankings, the Global Ranking of Academic Subjects are based upon the views of our academic peers across the world. Our achievement is therefore true testament to the standing in which we are held in by the global dental community,” Curtis continued.

The executive dean also noted the difficulties the school faced over the past year as well as the tremendous efforts of its staff and students, who adapted to new ways of working to continue to deliver world-class education and research.

“This would not have been possible without the very positive collaboration with our colleagues in the National Health Service in the UK who have worked tirelessly in support of our students to deliver clinical education in the most trying of circumstances,” Curtis said.

Curtis cited the school’s continuing successes in craniofacial and regenerative biology as well as its host microbiome research. He said he was particularly proud, however, of the school’s portfolio of activities in COVID-19 related studies, which have informed the practice of clinical dentistry and patient care throughout the pandemic.

“The staff and students of the Faculty of Dentistry, Oral & Craniofacial Sciences at King’s College London have shown yet again that they are an absolute credit to this university by all the amazing work they have done over the last year,” Curtis said. “It’s an honor and a privilege to be their dean.”

University of Washington

The University of Washington School of Dentistry’s seventh place showing this year is a slip from its fourth place result in 2020. However, it did do better with ShanghaiRanking’s judges than with QS, which named it fourth in the United States and fifteenth in the world this year.

“We are extremely gratified to continue to be ranked so highly in the United States and in the world. This is one measure that confirms that we are an outstanding dental school,” said dean Gary Chiodo, DMD.

With 448 applicants, the class of 2024 has 63 matriculates, including 27 women and 36 men. Overall, there are 264 DDS students across all programs, with 18 international DDS students three DDS/PhD students, 10 PhD students, 44 residents, and 61 graduate students. The school also boasts 63 full-time faculty members, 42 part-time members, and 598 affiliates.

Though ShanghaiRanking’s results emphasize research, not all research activities at the school are confined to faculty and full-time researchers. Students also pursue research under faculty mentorship through programs such as the Summer Research Fellowship Program and the Multidisciplinary Predoctoral Clinical Research Training Program. Also, the DDS/PhD track allows students to pursue advanced research after earning their dental degree.

“We are fortunate to have experienced investigators in both basic science and clinical-translational research. We also have researchers who are increasingly focusing on healthcare disparities and population health,” said Chiodo.

The school also is home to the Timothy A. DeRouen Center for Global Oral Health, which promotes international collaborations in dental research and education. Meanwhile, its Summer Institute in Dental and Craniofacial Clinical Research Methods draws participants from around the world. Due to the pandemic, this year the program launched as the Craniofacial and Oral Health Online Summer Institute.

The pandemic became a subject of research itself as the school conducted studies about it as well as oral health clinical procedures over the past year. Faculty members at the school’s satellite oral surgery clinic at Harborview Medical Center and in other departments published multiple papers after Seattle became the initial epicenter of the outbreak in the United States.

“Our faculty, staff, and students comprise the team that makes us successful. These dedicated and talented colleagues maintain a continual focus on excellence in our mission areas of teaching, patient care, research, and outreach,” Chiodo said. “They are the best of the best.” 

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