The idea for a new building for the University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston first was broached in 1998, but it took nearly 15 years — and some help from the Texas legislature — to make it a reality. "Talk can be cheap, but construction is not," Dr. John Valenza, dean of the UTHealth School of Dentistry told an overflow crowd at the opening of the new building Friday morning.
Valenza calls the gleaming new six-story, 300,000-square-foot building on the far south campus of the Texas Medical Center "the most advanced dental school facility in the world." And, indeed, it looks pretty impressive even to a person unfamiliar with the latest in dental technology.
Come with us for a tour of the new building, where dental students and faculty began seeing patients on Monday.
The University of Texas School of Dentistry at sunrise, right
While the building received the bulk of its funding from tuition revenue bonds authorized by the Texas legislature as well as monies from the University of Texas and UTHealth funds, alumni and supporters of the dental school donated $9.4 of the building's $155 million cost. Supporters also donated an additional $7.3 million for scholarships, faculty endowments and community outreach.
The names of donors are inscribed on a wall that has a real sculptural feel. It is located in the first floor lobby.
Throughout the building, from the lobby (shown here) to clinical areas where patients receive treatment, windows allow in natural light. Walls in colors of pale green, blue and burnt orange add vitality, along with comfortable mod furniture.
The Pediatric Dentistry Clinic has television sets on the ceiling so children can watch cartoons through wireless earphones while dental work is done. The room has 12 pediatric dentistry chairs and walls that are whimsically decorated with whales, birds, fish and farm animals.
A student works on a patient in the Orthodontics Clinic. Nearly 500 students attend the school, which offers programs in dentistry, dental hygiene, six dental specialties and two general dentistry programs. The Doctor of Dental Surgery program is expected to increase by 20 percent in the August class.
Half of the students who plan to become dentists are women.
The Cullen Clinic on the second floor is the building's largest. Donors can sponsor a cubicle for $25,000. The clinic space has natural lighting, pale blue walls and light burnished wood and Plexiglass accents. Larger cubicles accommodate patients in wheelchairs or with special needs. In all, there are more than 300 dental chairs throughout the building.
The Simulation Clinic features "virtual patients," allowing students to practice techniques such as preparing crowns and fillings on mannequins and learn about new procedures that may not crop up often among live patients. Each station in the Simulation Clinic features a mannequin head with plastic teeth and gums.
The first-of-its-kind Endodontics Clinic features Cone Beam CT imaging and endodontic microscopes with video cameras.
Students have individual lockers amid signs that urge them to "Revive" and "Renew."
The Student Center has attractive design elements like green plastic tables, modular lighting and cool blue, pale green and beige walls.
The Library and Learning Commons, on the building's fourth floor, features colorful carpet, computers and cubicles for study as well as things found in a traditional library — like books.
Also on the fourth floor, the Alumni Circle is a place for alumni, staff, students and visitors to congregate. It has a cool '60s vibe, with low-slung blue chairs.
Classrooms are equipped with up-to-date technology systems and lighting. Orange chairs lend a dash of color.
The School of Dentistry connects to the UTHealth Behavioral and Biomedical Sciences Building where dental research is conducted.
The courtyard behind the building has a Zen feeling. It has wireless service for those who want to use their laptops.
At the dedication, State Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) stole the show with a fiery speech urging the audience of more than 1,000 to get involved to convince the Texas legislature to fund the dental school and other educational facilities at adequate levels. "If you don't speak up loudly and clearly, things will be cut more," she said, noting that the budget for the dental school was cut 22 percent in the last legislative session. "Frankly, Texas can do better. We can. We must. We should."
She also praised the new dental facility as a place of innovation. "Let's make Texas No. 1 for beautiful smiles," she said.