Health Team

Competitive UNC dental school seeks service-minded students

Posted April 1, 2010 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated April 1, 2010 6:42 p.m. EDT

— When you sit down for a dental exam in North Carolina, odds are the dentist was trained at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry. It has been the only dental school in the state since 1954.

There are about four dentists for every 10,000 people in the state. UNC enrolls about 80 dental students a year, so it's very competitive.

The school is not looking for dentists who just want to set up a comfortable private practice, but rather dentists with a heart for serving public health needs.

Free clinics are an opportunity for many people in the state to get the dental care they desperately need. The professionals who freely give of their time and talents are the kind of dentists the state's only dental school wants more of.

“They're not just thinking about what they can get out of it, but they're here for the service that they can provide,” said Al Wilder, a professor and assistant dean for admissions and student affairs at the UNC School of Dentistry.

He helps keep the admissions standards high for those who hope to train at the school, such as students like Allison Metzler.

“Since high school, I did an internship and realized that this is what I wanted to do and applied, and I didn't get in my first time,” she said.

Metzler already had a strong GPA and science scores as an undergraduate, but helping out more in free dental clinics improved her chances on her second try, and now she's learning how to make temporary bridges.

UNC dental school students spend four years and three summers in rigorous training.

“It means they're actually on site, in class, clinic, pre-clinic (for) 32 hours a week,” Wilder said.

Metzler said she was surprised how tough the program was, but said it was a great experience.

Getting the details right, first with mannequins and then real patients, and doing it with a passion for service is what’s important.

“We have some wonderful dental students. We're real fortunate and very proud of the people that are here,” Wilder said.

The dental school is currently building a new facility which will allow it to enroll 20 additional dental students a year for a total of 100. UNC has also cooperated with East Carolina University in Greenville as they plan to open a new dental school program by next year.