Hundreds attend ground breaking ceremony for A.T. Still University's new dental school

It was a monumental moment for A.T. Still University Thursday morning as hundreds, including Governor Jay Nixon, gathered to break ground for the Missouri School of Dentistry and Oral Health.

"This is a landmark moment. Not only for this university and this community but for the state of Missouri as well," said Gov. Nixon.

A.T. Still University began its legacy of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville in 1892 when Dr. Andrew Still opened the American School of Osteopathy. On Thursday, that legacy continued as the university officials marked the initiation of construction for the Interprofessional Education & Dentistry School Building, which will house the dental and osteopathic medicine students.

"We're going to have the best equipped dental school in the country," said Dr. Jack Magruder, the President of A.T. Still University. " 26 million...we're going to build it with 18 million and have a whole lot of money for equipment. There will not be a better school in the country in terms of equipment."

The building was funded through a $26 million bond issue, a $500,000 grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health for phase I, and $1.1 million from the grassroots efforts of Community Friends for ATSU Dental.

""The tradition of excellence in training highly qualified and caring medical professional at AT Still University expands and will continue for generations to come," said Gov. Nixon.

The dental school is opening at a critical moment. Currently, the state of dental care is in a crisis as Missouri loses about 70 dentists annually to retirement and only 45-50 new dental graduates begin practice in the state annually. Licensure data shows that Missouri has a shortfall of 250 dentists; six counties are without a dentist and 12 counties have only one dentist to serve the entire county. Missouri ranks 47th in the nation in access to dental care for all residents and 49th in the nation in access to dental care for children.

"All across the country there is a crying need of trained and skilled health professionals of physical therapists, nurses, technicians, physicians. We have a shortage here in Missouri. But it is especially important for us to train dentist and oral health professionals," said Gov. Nixon. "It's a challenge we must and will meet both for improving overall quality of life and as a way to add more people and careers that are rewarding and secure."

"We're going to partner with many of our stakeholders as soon as possible to raise the oral health status of the citizens of the state to the highest possible level as quickly as possible," said Dr. Christopher Halliday, the newly named dean of the Missouri School of Dentistry and Oral Health.

The first class will enter in the Fall of 2013 and graduate in 2017. It will consist of 40 to 43 students. The students will study the first two years on ATSU's Kirksville, Mo. campus. During their third and fourth year, they will study in Community Health Centers across Missouri including at the Northeast Missouri Health Council in Kirksville and in St. Louis.

With new employees and students and their families moving to the area, it is estimated that the school will have a $40 million economic impact on the greater Kirksville area.

"The people of Kirksville have even more reason to be proud that two outstanding universities are in a city of this size. A strong tradition of medical and educational excellence put this community at the top of the list for putting this dental school here. Make no mistake, having a medical school here , Truman state here, having a community grounded in education, quality education, is important."