MU Dental School provides hands on experience early on in education

Marquette is home to the only dental school in the state of Wisconsin. Photo by Nolan Bollier/

Marquette’s Dental School provides unique opportunities to enrolled students from day one, working in the clinic and assisting with patients, gaining real world experience. 

Schools like Northeast Wisconsin Technical College train dental assistants but Marquette is home to the only dental school in Wisconsin. The state of Wisconsin gives the school grant money to help residents with in-state tuition.

“It’s expensive to run a dental school and very labor intensive,” Clinic Director Richard Hagner said.

When the clinic opened in 2002, changes were made to the curriculum so students would become familiar with patients and equipment at the start of their dental education.

“Back in the day, you didn’t see a patient until your third year of dental school,” Clinical Supervisor Jeanne Hoppe said. “(This is) much better. (Dental students) get a better picture overall of what they’re in for.”

In addition to being on campus, the dental school also operates in two satellite clinics. The northside clinic is on the bottom level of the Chase Bank building and the Southside Health Center is on 23rd Street.

“Some say the private practice dentists lose money treating these patients,” Hagner said. “So by doing this we create a dental home for many that might not have a dental home to go to otherwise.”

In the 2014-’15 school year, the three clinics treated 17,443 patients with an estimated $15 million value of dental services provided.

The impact of the clinic’s work can be seen in the lives of patients. Hagner referenced what he calls ‘extreme makeover: patient edition.’ This is when patients who suffered from years of disease or neglect come in and need to have most of their teeth taken out and replaced with dentures.

“On the day we take the last teeth out and put the denture in, they look at their smile and they burst into tears,” Hagner said. “(It’s) very heartwarming.”

When students in the dental school reach their second year, they work one to two days a week in the clinic. The older dental students spend most of their time in the clinic instead of the classroom.

“(It’s) incredibly rewarding,” said Ryan Dodge, a second-year dental student. “You have someone you’re working with, you get to know them better, you get to know their story. It definitely aligns with our mission of service.”

Second year Dental Student Emma Roy said working with patients is everyone’s part of school.

Marquette’s Service Learning program sends dental students to the Southside Health Center. Many patients who visit Southside speak Spanish and are assisted by Spanish students from Marquette.

Other service initiatives include Marquette’s Special Care Dentistry Association, which created a dental tolerance program that focuses on accustoming patients with special needs to the dental setting to overcome their fear of the dentist.

“That’s the deal with dentistry, you’re there to serve the community,” Roy said.