Nearly two years to the day that officials with Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences cut the ribbon on their new Joplin campus, they were back in town for another announcement — a new $80 million College of Dental Medicine that they plan to build and open for its first class by 2022.
KCU leaders said the school is needed to help fill a shortage of dental health professionals in the region. Shortage areas are designated for a variety of reasons — challenging geography, low-income populations or lack of facilities, for example — but the consequences are the same. Residents go without necessary health care.
We've unfortunately seen this time and time again through the Mission of Mercy, which in recent years has visited both Joplin and Pittsburg, Kansas, with its free dental clinics. Each clinic has drawn hundreds of people who just need a good cleaning, extraction or filling but can't afford it or don't have access to regular care. This is a wonderful public service, but it's not a long-term solution.
A College of Dental Medicine in Joplin could potentially be that solution, educating and graduating up to 80 dental health professionals annually to work in unserved or underserved areas. Increasing the number of dentists working in this region could increase people's access to the care they need.
A dental school here also could be a game-changer for our community in much the same way that the medical school, which opened in June 2017, has been. It will draw students in possibly from all over the world, training them in rural areas in the hopes that they'll stay once their education is complete. It also could pour millions into the economy through job creation and spending by hundreds of new Joplin residents.
And we've said this before, but we'll say it again: As KCU begins to look for "strategic partnerships," which is one of the tasks of its new vice provost for oral health initiatives, university officials should look to Missouri Southern State University.
MSSU tried for years to bring a dental school to its campus, but funding from the state never materialized to make that dream a reality. Missouri Southern has a dental hygiene program and its W. Robert Corley Dental Hygiene Clinic, and it has already collaborated with KCU Joplin on a number of research initiatives and admissions programs through the medical school. So strengthening that connection between the two universities makes sense.