About the School of Dentistry
Our Mission, Vision, and Core Values
The current Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry mission statement is as follows: “True to its heritage, the Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry exists as a global academic health Center of Excellence that promotes improving the oral health and overall health care through transformative, collaborative, educational and service models, the provision of excellent compassionate health care, and innovative research.”
The current Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry vision statement is as follows: “To identify, mentor, train, and educate a diverse group of the next generation of dental practitioners, faculty and researchers, placing special emphasis on African Americans and other people of color as well as others from disadvantaged backgrounds, who will lead our communities nationally and internationally in the advancement of oral health care.” The School of Dentistry will achieve this vision through:
- Diverse students, faculty and staff
- Collaborative research
- Interprofessional collaboration
- Integrated curriculum
- Patient centered clinical enterprise
Integrity – professionalism and ethics in all aspects of life
Excellence – producing the best at all times
Empathy – compassionate service for underserved and health care disparities
Diversity and Inclusion – embracing and understanding cultural differences
Leadership – mentoring and encouraging students to pursue leadership opportunities
Currently, the School of Dentistry receives close to 2,000 applications and admits approximately 60 students each year. In addition, there are two graduate programs, Oral Maxillofacial Surgery and General Practice Residency. Although the program itself has grown to keep up with the latest innovations and the communities it serves, Meharry’s dental program still adheres to requiring all first-years to fulfill their basic sciences requirements through courses taught through the School of Medicine; born out of necessity, it is an approach that has proven effective for over 100 years, and one that generates interdisciplinary, integrated thought and exchange of ideas. It is a part of the School of Dentistry’s legacy that remains just as relevant today—and part of what keeps Meharry’s dental program competitive and challenging.
Each student who arrives at our campus knows they are expected to continue and expand upon the legacy that has been left for them. They also know that there will be many opportunities to do just that, in an environment that truly wants them to succeed.
In fact, students and visitors alike are welcome to tour our School museum, which features important artifacts and relics that keep our story alive, cherished . . . and celebrated.
the earliest beginnings of any Meharry program, department, school, or initiative can be traced back to a chance meeting one stormy night in the 1820s, a story typically known as the Salt Wagon Story. This chance meeting culminated in 1876, when the Meharry Medical Department of Central Tennessee College admitted its first 11 students.
The idea to establish a dental department within the Meharry medical department originated in the minds of a few medical alumni, but it wasn’t until eight years later, in 1884, when the trustees of Central Tennessee College considered the feasibility of adding dental education as part of the medical curriculum.
In June of that same year, Dean George Whipple Hubbard, M.D., announced that arrangements for opening the dental department had been consummated. He estimated that it would cost $500 for “a suitable outfit for our dental rooms.” He secured the following contributions in currency and goods to get the dental school started:
- $20 in cash and $15 in instruments from White Dental Manufacturing Co. (Philadelphia)
- $10 cash and $15 worth of instruments from G. Sibley (Philadelphia)
- $10 cash and $25 in instruments from H.D. Justis (Philadelphia)
- $25 in instruments from New York Dental Mfg. Co.
- $10 cash from Chas. Abbey (New York)
- $5 cash from Dr. Pierce (Philadelphia)
- $20 cash from J. H. Ashmead & Son (Hartford, Connecticut)
Even though the total amount received did not reach Hubbard’s original estimate, he believed it was enough to start the department while continuing to seek further contributions.
Dean Hubbard then consulted with William Henry Morgan, M.D., D.D.S., founding dean of the Department of Dentistry at Vanderbilt University, to help get Meharry’s dental program started. Dr. Morgan had served as president of the National (American) Dental Association in 1870 and had gained a national reputation. Hubbard gave Morgan the responsibility of implementing the new dental program.
The Dream Becomes a Dental Program
Officially founded in 1886 as a department that would “provide the Colored people of the South with an opportunity for thoroughly preparing themselves for the practice of dentistry,” Meharry’s dental program opened its doors to nine students, three of whom were physicians, on October 4, 1886. Initial requirements for admission were that applicants needed to be at least 19 years old and of good moral character. Additionally, they were mandated to “pass a satisfactory examination in reading, writing, arithmetic, spelling, geography, and grammar, or bring satisfactory evidence of having completed a course in some recognized Normal School, Academy, or College.” The basic costs of a Meharry dental education included a $30 annual fee and $10 graduation assessment. It bears mentioning that the dental department of Central Tennessee College (Meharry’s first home) was launched as the first institution in the South for training African-American dentists.
The dental program initially lasted two years, with the first year devoted to the basic sciences and practical laboratory work (basis science courses were taught by faculty of the medical department). In the second year, students participated in extensive exercises in the dental laboratory.
Since three of the students were physicians and as graduates of the medical department, they were exempt from the first year of dental requirements. Accordingly, they were recipients of the department’s first dental doctorates conferred in 1887: Henry T. Noel of Tennessee; Robert Fulton Boyd of Tennessee; and John Wesley Anderson of Texas.
The first commencement of Central Tennessee College’s dental department was the eleventh commencement of the medical department, held on Monday, February 21, 1887, at Nashville’s Masonic Theater, with Dean Morgan addressing the dental graduates.
And over 100 years later, the Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry continues to fulfill Dr. Hubbard’s vision, serving not only as one of two historically Black dental schools in the nation, but also as a beacon for underserved populations all over the world who receive quality, compassionate, professional dental care.