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College of Dentistry, Partners Celebrate Start of Construction on Kingsport Clinic

Stakeholders and community partners celebrated the kickoff of construction for the dental training clinic in Kingsport. From left: Mark Cox, David Ellis (Blue CrossBlue Shield of Tennessee), Kane Hamilton (Delta Dental of Tennessee), Dr. John Royal (clinic director), Dr. Clay Runnels (Ballad Health), Dr. William Block (East Tennessee State University), College of Dentistry Dean James Ragain, Dr. David Linville (East Tennessee State University), UT President Randy Boyd.

The College of Dentistry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center today celebrated the start of construction on a new dental training clinic in Kingsport, Tennessee.

When completed, the clinic, named the Kingsport Dental Clinic of the Appalachian Highlands, will serve as a rotation site for dental students and offer a full-time Advanced Education in General Dentistry residency. Additionally, the clinic will host Dental Hygiene student rotations from East Tennessee State University.

Planning for the new training site began in October 2022, when the city of Kingsport, UT Health Science Center, Ballad Health, and East Tennessee State University signed a memorandum of understanding to plan for the possibility of a partnership. The agreement represented a historic collaboration, including two public universities and a large number of private corporate sponsors, as well as leaders from across the community.

“This is probably the most exciting thing—and the most important thing—happening in Kingsport right now,” said Kingsport Mayor Pat Shull.

“This started because of a group of people in this community came together with a good idea, and it is a historic investment in this community and the region,” UT System President Randy Boyd told the audience gathered at the site for the celebration.

The Kingsport Chamber hosted today’s event. The new clinic facility is a second-floor renovation and demolition has begun. Because of that, a symbolic groundbreaking featured a tub filled with 4,000 individually wrapped toothbrushes that are among a total of 8,000 to be donated through the Kingsport Chamber to area schools.

The new training site is a significant part of the College of Dentistry’s Healthy Smiles Initiative, which seeks to increase dental class sizes and add new clinical sites across Tennessee for student clinical rotations, with a goal of improving access to dental care across the state. In these rotations, students get hands-on experience treating patients in the community who might otherwise not have access to care.

 In December, the College of Dentistry hired a clinical director, John Royal, DDS, a 1985 graduate of the UT Health Science Center College of Dentistry. Prior to joining the College of Dentistry, Dr. Royal served as a clinical director of a similar clinic for East Carolina University in Spruce Pine, NC. The College of Dentistry also has rotation sites in Union City, Crossville, Knoxville, Bristol, and Chattanooga.

While the new clinic will play an important role in health of the community, James Ragain, DDS, MS, PhD, FICD, FACD, dean of the College of Dentistry, reminded attendees that this clinic represents the first step in a larger plan. “Our ultimate goal is to have a site where third- and fourth-year students can finish their degree in Kingsport. Our intention is to build a major training site here in Kingsport. This clinic is important, but this clinic is just the beginning.”