New Building Brings New Day for UTHSC College of Dentistry

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Construction on the new Delta Dental of Tennessee Building on the Memphis campus is in full swing. First to be completed will be new elevator shafts on the sides of the building.

By all measures, the new dental building under construction on the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s Memphis campus is a game changer for the UTHSC College of Dentistry.

In late October, the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees approved a request from UTHSC to name the building, the Delta Dental of Tennessee Building. The board also approved naming the entire grounds of the College of Dentistry, located at 875 Union Avenue, the Delta Dental of Tennessee Oral Health Complex. The complex includes the new structure, the existing Dunn Dental Building, which retains its name and continues in use with upgrades, as well as clinics, and support structures.

The new building will wrap the Dunn Dental Building on the north (facing Union Avenue) and west (facing downtown), offering a new façade and entrance that can be seen from Union Avenue. It will house a special needs clinic, a faculty practice, and dental technique laboratories for first- and second-year students. Construction is expected to continue for roughly another two years.

James Ragain, DDS, MS, PhD, FICD, FACD, dean of the College of Dentistry, said the additional space will allow for more student interaction. “There’s just going to be a lot more presence of all four classes on this side of Union Avenue,” he said.

The dean said the additional space, once operational, will allow the College of Dentistry to reach its goal to expand its class size from 98 to 130 students, in order to meet the demand for dentists in Tennessee and the surrounding region. The unmet need for dentists is particularly acute in rural areas, he said.

“To accomplish this, we have to have more space to train our students,” Dean Ragain said. “Our vision is clinical excellence in dental education. We’ve been known for many, many years for training excellent dentists, dental hygienists, and specialists. We can continue that and add to that by attracting the most talented students, faculty, and leadership that we can. If we can provide a state-of-the-art building that has all the latest teaching aids and the latest dental equipment the students can learn on, I think it attracts folks to our school.”

The name honors the outstanding support from Delta Dental of Tennessee and its President and Chief Executive Officer Philip Wenk, DDS. Dr. Wenk is a 1973 graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and a 1977 graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry. He also chairs the UTHSC Advisory Board.

Dr. Wenk received an Outstanding Alumnus Award from the UTHSC College of Dentistry Alumni Association in 2016 and was selected from more than 370,000 alumni as one of the University of Tennessee’s “Top 100 Distinguished Alumni” by Tennessee Alumnus, now Our Tennessee, the University of Tennessee System’s alumni magazine.

“As CEO, Phil is a strong advocate for the College of Dentistry,” UTHSC Chancellor Steve Schwab, MD, wrote in a letter to UT President Randy Boyd in making the naming recommendation.

Delta Dental of Tennessee is the largest donor to the UTHSC College of Dentistry. Since 1997, Delta Dental of Tennessee has provided financial support to the college totaling more than $16,500,000, including $6.3 million for construction costs toward the more than $45 million new building, and $1.4 million in equipment.

Projects and initiatives at UTHSC that have benefited from the support of Delta Dental include the Delta Dental of Tennessee Endowed Scholarship, equipment in dental labs, the annual College of Dentistry Scholarship Dinner, and the annual Slagle Dental Meeting. Delta Dental of Tennessee has also provided expert advice on strategic matters, speakers to address alumni and students, and fundraising leadership to complete the Dunn Dental Building. 

Construction on the new building began several months ago, however, the college has been careful to ensure that clinics remain open and patient care continues unchanged. The first thing to be completed will be new elevator shafts.

“Now we’re at the point where folks can see it (the construction), and people are getting really excited about it,” Dean Ragain said.

An early rendering illustrates how the new construction integrates with the existing Dunn Dental Building, presenting an impressive facade along busy Union Avenue.

 

Delta Dental of Tennessee Building at a Glance

68,000 square feet

4 floors

$45 Million (cost)

Part of the Delta Dental of Tennessee Oral Healthcare Complex (includes the Dunn Dental Building, opened in 1978, and the new Delta Dental of Tennessee Building)

Spring 2023 Expected completion

Special Needs Clinic (6 dental treatment rooms on the ground floor)

Expanded and modernized University Dental Practice (10 dental treatment rooms with updated radiographic equipment)

2 large seminar rooms

134 manikin stations in preclinical dental techniques laboratories for dental and dental hygiene programs

12 faculty offices

Locker spaces for students

132 seats for students in large lecture auditorium

Dean’s Suite (top floor, moving from Dunn Dental Building, freeing space for student organization activities, study areas, and additional student gathering areas)

Turner Construction Company