Health Professions

Brief History of Dental Education in Missouri

St. Louis Medical College and Missouri Dental College
St. Louis Medical College and Missouri Dental College, ca. 1893

The first dental college in Missouri was the Missouri Dental College, which was located in St. Louis and admitted its first class of students in 1866. At the time the school was only the 6th dental college in the United States. Other early dental schools in Missouri included the Western College of Dental Surgeons (also located in St. Louis), which opened in 1878 and graduated its last class in 1884, and the Interstate Dental College in Kansas City, which opened in 1883.

In 1892 the Missouri Dental College became the Dental Department of Washington University. The name was changed several times over the years – in 1909 to the Washington University Dental School; in 1919 to the Washington University School of Dentistry; in 1974 to the Washington University School of Dental Medicine. Co-education came to the dental school in 1908 when the faculty passed the following resolution: “Female students are admitted on the same conditions required of male students. The faculty reserves the right to, and at any time they should see fit, transfer any and all female matriculants to some other institution.” There is no indication that the dental school ever exercised that right. The first woman graduate of the W.U. Dental School was Sophia Wachsmuth, of Munich Germany, who graduated in 1910. In 1918 the faculty passed a motion making the school truly co-educational, beginning with the 1918-19 academic year.

Washington University School of Dentistry, 1946
Washington University School of Dentistry, 1946

Though women were allowed to enter the Washington University Dental School several years before they were allowed entry to the medical school, few women did so. Only five women had graduated from the Dental School prior to 1918, the year the School of Medicine became co-educational. By 1936 less than 20 women had completed dental degrees, while over 40 had completed medical degrees.

The Marion-Sims College of Medicine Dental Department began accepting students in 1896. The school’s name changed to the Marion-Sims Dental College in 1900, and then to the St. Louis Dental College in 1905. In 1908 the school merged with St. Louis University to become the St. Louis University School of Dentistry. Women were not accepted into the dental school until after World War II.

The Kansas City Dental College, founded in 1883, and the Western Dental College, founded in 1891, consolidated in 1919 to form the Kansas City Western Dental College. The Western Dental College admitted both men and women. By 1941, when the dental college joined the University of Kansas City (which had ties to the Methodist Church), the school no longer accepted women students. The University of Kansas City and its School of Dentistry was incorporated into the University of Missouri system in 1963, becoming the co-educational University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Dentistry.

For the last several decades rising costs and declining enrollments have plagued dental schools across the country, forcing many to close. The St. Louis University School of Dentistry closed in 1970. The Washington University School of Dental Medicine closed after 125 years of existence in 1991. The University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Dentistry is now the only accredited dental school in Missouri.