Located in New Orleans’ Gentilly neighborhood, LSU Health Sciences Center School of Dentistry is the only dental school in the state, and it has educated more than 80 percent of the state’s current dental professionals.

(Loyola University closed its dental school in 1971.) Students can receive degrees in dentistry, dental hygiene and dental laboratory technology – in fact, it is the only school in the country to offer degrees in all three fields – as well as advanced education certifications in seven dental specialties. The school also offers a combined certificate in oral and maxillofacial surgery with a doctor of medicine degree, as well as a Master of Science degree in oral biology. It has 14 clinics in seven cities around the state, and in the past year, more than 13,000 patients went to more than 50,000 appointments. Satellite locations are in Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Alexandria.

The school offers a familial atmosphere, state-of-the-art teaching tools and esteemed faculty members who are committed to the evolution of their field. Director of Public Relations Leslie Capo says of the student body, “We’re teaching them all to take care of us.”

Despite the fact that it’s a part of a major university, students who aspire to go into the field of dentistry say that the school is unrivaled when it comes to its warm atmosphere. “We are like a close-knit family,” says Leslie Baldwin, who graduates in May 2011. “We move as a pack. We’re on a first-name basis – you’re not just an ID number here.” Shilpa Nileshwar, who also graduates this spring, notes that the faculty-to student ratio is small. “We get a lot of one-on-one time,” she says.

Students say the first year at LSU School of Dentistry is very similar to medical school but with more emphasis on lab work, and by the time they are in their second year, they begin to see patients. They start off by working on plastic teeth and then move on to mannequins. “We practice injections on each other, too,” says Nileshwar.
By the time they see patients, they are well-trained.

Students are instilled with a strong sense of community, which is evident in the myriad health fairs, free screenings, oral health care forums and other activities that promote dental health awareness for children and adults.

 Although it suffered major physical blows during Hurricane Katrina, the school’s campus has undergone extensive renovations and will continue to do so over the next few years. (After the storm, students were sent to an interim location in Baton Rouge.) This year’s graduating class is the first class since the storm to have studied all four years in New Orleans.

Upcoming plans include a 54,000-square-foot addition. Currently, though, the school has cutting-edge laboratories and teaching tools, and a trip to the school’s library shows just how far the field of dentistry has evolved over the years. On display is an exhibit of tooth anomalies, compiled by Dr. Robert Eastman, who assembled his collection during his career as a dental educator at Loyola and then at LSU. Also displayed are old-fashioned dental tools – sharp objects and menacing-looking chairs. Thankfully, the days of fearing the dentist are over. Dean Henry Gremillion, himself a graduate of LSU, places emphasis on showing compassion to patients. An expert in pain management, Gremillion says that there is an art to dentistry and that students strive to improve the quality of life for their patients. He also says that everyone – students and faculty alike – is committed to lifelong learning.

“Advancements in technology must be kept up with,” he says.
The school also emphasizes the link between oral health and overall health: cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even Alzheimer’s disease all have links to oral health.

Says associate professor Kitrina Cordell: “One of the most important things we do is educate [students] about diseases. A dentist may be the initial person to diagnose a manifestation of an illness. Early recognition of precancerous or cancerous lesions in the mouth, for example, can be a life-saving event.”  

Says Nileshwar of her impending graduation, “I think the school has prepared us well.” Cordell adds: “This is an environment that fosters and facilitates personal and professional growth. It’s refreshing to see this team atmosphere, and there’s a lot of support for the different disciplines. We learn from each other on a regular basis.”