Search for UMKC School of Dentistry Dean to Begin

Provost Jenny Lundgren announced that a national search for the next dean of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry will get underway in early November.

The UMKC School of Dentistry is an asset to the Kansas City community, delivering clinical care to more than 60,000 patients each year. Founded in 1881 as the Kansas City Dental College, the UMKC School of Dentistry is the only public dental school in Missouri and Kansas, and most of the oral health professionals in those states are alumni.

Important Notes:
• The UMKC School of Dentistry is known around the world for its research, consistently winning significant National Institutes of Health grants and attention from media around the country and the globe.
• The school has a large alumni base across the ocean in Hawaii that dates back to World War II when much of the U.S. was seized with fear of Americans of Japanese descent; the dean at the time took a different path and welcomed Japanese American students with open arms.
• Marsha Pyle, who served as dean since 2009, retired in September, and School of Pharmacy Dean Russell Melchert is serving as interim dean until the next dean is hired in the spring with an anticipated start in the summer of 2021. Community forums are planned to be held in March or April.

UMKC Provost Jenny Lundgren said:
“We’re looking for a strong candidates who can build on the enormous impact of this more-than-century-old institution and continue to move the dental profession into the future through compassion, education and innovation.”

Read the full announcement

Student’s TLC Helped a Removable-Prosthesis Patient Get Through Delays

Making a good set of dentures can take time, as it did for Jesus Lopez Luna. Then the pandemic meant he would have to wait an additional three-plus additional months to get them. But the attention of a conscientious student meant he felt cared for and helped him through the unavoidable delay.

“The week we had to shut down for COVID-19, the week of March 15, we were going to deliver his dentures,” said Elizabeth Lukens, the UMKC School of Dentistry student who had been working on the dentures since November. “I felt so bad he had to wait so much extra time to get them.”

But Lopez was “super understanding,” said Lukens, now a fourth-year DDS student. And to compensate, Lukens kept in touch with frequent updates till students could resume in-person operations.

“I told him he would be the first person I called once we could open,” she said. “I tried to reassure him the best I could. We hoped for a June reopening, but then that was pushed back to July.”

Lopez took it all in stride, and appreciated the care Lukens gave him.

“She got in touch with me several times, and gave me hope,” said Lopez, who first learned about the School of Dentistry’s clinics through his physician. “I was so happy when she texted me that my dentures were ready.”

All went well with Lopez’s two follow-up visits, and by mid-July he could share his smile with everyone.

“Elizabeth did a good job,” he said, “and everything is working well for me.”

Lukens has finished her work for other patients she had when the campus shut down and now is working toward graduation in May. And she will always remember a certain especially patient patient.

“That’s the happiest I’ve ever seen a patient,” she said, recalling when she delivered Lopez’s dentures. “I’m so glad he’s out in the world now with his full smile.”

Health Equity Mini-grants Aim to Jump Start Collaborative Research

Informational webinar Oct. 16; applications due Nov. 9

Making access to health care more equal is a tough task, and a pandemic only makes the job tougher. To help, the UMKC Health Equity Institute is trying a new tool — mini-grants to university researchers and their community partners — to boost those efforts.

“We have about $12,000 to $15,000 spend, and we think putting $1,000 to $2,000 in the right places could help eight to 10 projects move forward,” said Jannette Berkley-Patton, Ph.D., the director of the institute and a professor in the UMKC School of Medicine. “Sometimes help paying for study participants, software, consultants or other resources can make a real difference.”

Though small, the grants could be the seed money — or the Miracle-Gro® — needed to turn ideas into budding projects that encourage and measure the effectiveness of community health efforts.

The brief application for the mini-grant program is available now, and institute members are encouraging researchers and community groups to submit their joint applications. Applicants are strongly encouraged to attend a webinar Oct. 16 to learn information about the mini-grants. Important information, such as budget documents and the grant program overview, are available, as well.

Applicants will have until Nov. 9 to submit their proposals, after which finalists will be chosen. The finalists then will give short oral presentations and recipients will be chosen. The institute plans to have the funds available at the beginning of 2021.

“We’re hoping the mini-grants stimulate our researchers to be creative and to collaborate with community partners — or build relationships with new partners,” Berkley-Patton said. “The institute’s steering committee will evaluate the applications, and we hope to have applicants make a brief, but impactful, oral pitch for their proposals sometime this fall in a virtual presentation akin to “Shark Tank®.”

The idea behind the Health Equity Institute, an initiative Chancellor C. Mauli Agrawal started in April 2019, is to partner UMKC researchers with community groups, non-profits and government agencies in underserved areas on projects that aim to improve community health.

The institute, for example, is working with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority to evaluate the impact of the city’s now-free bus service on health outcomes. The institute wants to understand whether their recruited residents’ health and overall well-being improve because they walk more and have better access to jobs and health care through the free transit system. The institute has also helped the Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department conduct COVID-19 drive-through testing by coordinating more than 90 student volunteers. The students helped with intake, traffic control and providing COVID-19 information to people seeking testing.

The institute also helped with formation of an interfaith ministers’ group, the Clergy Response Network,

founded to address COVID-19 inequities in Kansas City’s faith-based settings, and has created a church reopening checklist for clergy. The network recently received 30,000 face masks to distribute to congregations to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Berkley-Patton is a veteran of community-based health research, including studies that engage churches and other community-based organizations’ in efforts to combat health disparity issues such as HIV and other STDs, mental health, obesity and diabetes.

“We need more research projects that improve the health of people where they live, play, worship and work, and projects that can be sustained for the long haul after research shows they work,” Berkley-Patton said. “We think these mini-grants can get more projects like these up and running while engaging the community in research efforts that we hope will reduce disparities and improve health in Kansas City’s urban areas.”

For more information on the mini-grant program, visit the Health Equity Institute website.

Welcome Dean Melchert!

Russell Melchert, Ph.D., the new interim dean of the School of Dentistry, said he was honored to serve the school untill a permanent replacement is found for Dean Marsha Pyle, who retired Sept. 1.

“The School of Dentistry has been a prominent part of my life for decades,” said Melchert, who has been dean of the School of Pharmacy since 2010. “Not only have I received dental care from faculty for the 10 years I have been at UMKC, but UMKC alumni cared for me for a good part of my life growing up in western Kansas. So, I have had a tremendous amount of respect for the school.”

Melchert said his regard for the school grew even stronger in the past five years while he has taught the Pharmacology and Therapeutics 1 course in the dental program.

“Through that experience, and my involvement with interprofessional education efforts, I quickly grew a great appreciation and tremendous amount of respect for the outstanding students in the school,” he said. “They have taught me a lot and will continue to do so, no doubt.”

Before coming to UMKC, Melchert was a professor and chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Arkansas. He earned his B.S. in pharmacy and Ph.D. in pharmaceutical sciences from the University of Oklahoma and was a National Institute of Environmental Health post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Texas.

“The School of Dentistry is so important to UMKC, to the UM System, to the state of Missouri and region from many different aspects,” he said. “As the state’s only publicly supported dental program, our mission of educating future dentists, hygienists, specialists, and scientists is all the more critical.”

Melchert is well known in academic circles. He is the immediate past chair of the Council of Deans of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. His research has been financed by the Department of Defense and National Institutes of Health, and he has published many scholarly works in pharmacology, toxicology and pharmacy education. He has received more than 20 awards from students for his teaching in pharmacology.

Speaking of students, Melchert and his wife of 31 years, Stephanie, are very proud of their two UMKC Roo children: Philip, who graduated with his Pharm.D. in 2020, and Sarah, who is a senior student in the School of Education studying elementary education.

“I very much look forward to getting to know the students, staff and faculty much better,” Melchert said, “and to continuing my efforts at being a good partner, friend, and great advocate for the school.”

The Dean Pyle era: Achievement, caring, focus, gratitude

With Dr. Marsha Pyle, encounters often start and end with expressions of gratitude — for opportunities and the resulting accomplishments, and for professional relationships and personal friendships.

And so it is with her nearly 12-year tenure as dean of the UMKC School of Dentistry, which came to a close Sept. 1. When she arrived in 2009, Pyle said, the school had a well-earned reputation for strong clinical training, “and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I had to keep that tradition going and build on it at UMKC.”

Pyle said a year ago that she would be stepping down this fall as dean. That announcement came shortly after a signature achievement for the school, the opening of its state-of-the-art Pre-clinic Lab.

“Our facility (the lab) was 50 years old and really needed updating,” Pyle said. “Now, it’s spectacular, providing an ergonomically correct, realistic simulation for students before they move on to treating patients. It has the technologically advanced equipment they’re going to see in their practices.”

Rather than coast to retirement, however, Pyle faced another huge challenge in March when the pandemic forced the closure of almost all school facilities. She and her faculty and staff worked tirelessly to quickly shift classes online, and to shut down the school’s dental clinics, revamp them with new safety equipment and procedures, and then reopen them slowly and carefully over the summer.

At the same time, Pyle and her team made sure that the Dental and Dental Hygiene Classes of 2020 could graduate on time, despite not being able to screen patients in anticipation of impending dental licensure board exams. Dylan Weber, a member of the DDS Class of 2020, led the school’s chapter of the American Student Dental Association and knew first-hand how Pyle supported students. So he was only briefly surprised when she called him out of the blue to keep him updated on how the school and the association were working on the changes in licensing and testing.

“That call was one of many instances showing her dedication to the success of her students,” Weber said.

Now, as the school and clinics reopen, Pyle said, “I feel really good about how we’ve handled this and our preparations for the fall. It has been incredibly hard, incredibly time consuming and stressful. Since March, so many faculty members have worked countless hours to make our fall semester as safe as we possibly can while retaining instructional quality and educational purpose.”

Making the Pre-clinic Lab a reality, navigating the pandemic and graduating the Classes of 2020 were quite a trifecta to cap a career. They also built on other hallmarks of Pyle’s years as dean.

Digital technology and dentistry. From an early push into digital X-rays to the latest uses of 3-D printers to make crowns, dentures and other devices, the school has kept up with — or ahead of — dental practice technology. The school’s digital equipment lineup also has oral scanners, state-of-the-art treatment planning software and cone beam tomography. For several years, the school also has been giving students experience in creating and using digital impressions, in the Pre-clinic Lab and in patient care.

Pyle also oversaw the opening of the school’s Innovation Clinic in 2012. A partnership with dental equipment manufacturers, the facility allows students to see and work with the latest equipment.

“If you aren’t changing and innovating, you’re really moving backwards,” Pyle said. “And you have to integrate curriculum and technology, so that students know the science behind the latest devices. We always want students to graduate ready for the practice of the future, and to be able to evaluate expensive technology when they have their own practice.”

Practice management, lifelong learning and research. Because so much is involved in running a modern practice, from human resource issues to expensive equipment purchases, Pyle revamped the school’s practice management curriculum. Instead of taking a course or two, UMKC students now learn business lessons throughout their four years at the school.
“That also reinforces the philosophy of life-long learning,” she said. “You have to be able to see ahead and be ready for change. It’s important for us to instill that kind of mentality and concepts for our students to carry with them throughout their careers.”

Research goes hand-in-hand with that philosophy, Pyle said.

“You can’t have a strong clinical program like ours without science,” she said. “If you’re not creating science, if you’re not discovering, if you’re not supporting scholarship and inquiry and creative thinking, then you’re missing the point on the clinical piece. Such knowledge is vital to good practice and to advancing the profession.”

Fiscal accountability and alumni support. “As state finances have tightened, it has been really important to make sure we were good stewards of our resources and emphasized accountability to the greater university. So we’ve updated a lot of policies and procedures that help us operate a bit more effectively.”

Being clear about its mission and financial needs also has helped the school communicate with alumni and other donors, who are an ever-more-important resource. The credibility that comes with accountability was crucial, for example, to assemble the final funding needed for the Pre-clinical Lab from alumni and the university, which dedicated $2 million from an outside foundation grant to the project.

“It isn’t easy to ask people to do more with less, and to juggle our obligations to our students and our patients to provide high-quality education and dental care,” Pyle said. “One of the biggest things that I’m grateful for is that there is such robust and dedicated support for the school through the Rinehart Foundation, the Dental Alumni Association and the Dental Hygiene Alumni Association. We’ve been able to complete projects like the pre-clinic that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.”

In turn, alumni appreciate Pyle’s efforts and attention. “From the very beginning of her tenure as dean, Dr. Pyle espoused the importance of strong and vibrant dental school alumni organizations that lend support to the school and university through involvement and philanthropy,” said Charles Squire, who has been deeply involved with the Alumni Association since earning his DDS from the school in 1968. “She willingly and cheerfully gave of her time to meet with alumni and friends, not only in Kansas City but throughout the United States.”

Another key to the school’s success during Pyle’s tenure may be her ability to focus on the task at hand, and to always take her work, but not herself, seriously. That meant Pyle stuck to business almost all the time, but at student and staff holiday functions often was first in line to play an ice-breaker game.

Tamra Hoffman, RDH, clinical instructor and past president of the Dental Hygiene Alumni Association, said: “Dean Pyle is always in business mode, but she also often asks about my daughters and shows much appreciation when I have brought them to community service events. She also has always shown respect toward my ideas and quickly acted on one that allowed our Radiology Department to work more efficiently while allowing our students a better simulation lab for learning.”

When Pyle announced her retirement, her plans included returning as faculty emerita. That changed when an offer came her way to become the senior scholar in residence for the American Dental Education Association, which will require a move to Washington, D.C.

“I’ve always tried to do the right thing in my career, to use my creativity to lead the school and all of our graduates into a positive future. It’s really an amazing place,” Pyle said. “I’ve also done what I could to contribute to the dental professions, and I’ll be able to do that in my new job.”

And after 11 years of creating friendships and relationships, Pyle said, “I’ll be taking a lot of memories with me. The friendships I’ve made will be everlasting.”

Professor Tanya Villalpando Mitchell Appointmented Chair of the Division of Dental Hygiene

Congratulations Professor Tanya Villalpando Mitchell on her appointment to a two year term as the Chair of the Division of Dental Hygiene.

Tanya Villalpando Mitchell, RDH, MS is Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Division of Dental Hygiene at the University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC) School of Dentistry. Prof. Mitchell has been a full-time faculty member at UMKC since 2001 and holds an appointment as a Graduate Faculty member. She teaches students in each of the Division’s three programs – including Entry-Level, Degree Completion and Master of Science in Dental Hygiene Education. She has received teaching awards including the UMKC School of Dentistry Distinguished Teacher Award. Prof. Mitchell is a member of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association and the American Dental Education Association and is a reviewer for the Journal of Dental Hygiene. She has published manuscripts and presented faculty development workshops, posters, and served on panels at national meetings across the country.

Masks Can’t Hide New Students’ Excitement at Orientation

This week’s School of Dentistry orientation sessions, complete with masks and a review of extensive pandemic safety precautions, certainly looked different from years past. But that didn’t keep the new dental and dental hygiene students from bringing the same focus, enthusiasm and desire for learning that each fall propel students toward successful careers.
Cole Daniel, one of the 109 members of the Dentistry Class of 2024, is from Little Rock and earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Arkansas. But he said he came to UMKC because “it felt like home.”

“From the interview to communicating with the admissions office I knew that UMKC would take care of me as a student,” Daniel said. “The emphasis on being a great clinical school was also really important to me.”

Daniel is one of 11 dental students from Arkansas in the class, which also has 59 students from Missouri, 24 from Kansas, three from New Mexico and one each from Hawaii, Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, North Caroline, Tennessee and Texas. Four students from Kuwait round out the class of 57 men and 52 women, who bring an average DAT score of 20.25 and a science GPA of 3.72.

“I loved how integrity is a core value at UMKC,” he said, “and I knew I would be surrounded by students and faculty who wanted to do the right thing as well as practice exceptional dentistry.”
Daniel, who has several family members in dentistry, added, “I truly think it is a career that has everything you could ask for. Every day you get to see a tangible difference you made in someone’s life, work with your hands, and make a good living. Once I realized the NBA or NFL was not going to happen for me, dentistry became my dream.”
The 31 women in the Dental Hygiene Class of 2022, who come from Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Nebraska, also bring impressive credentials. Several of them have worked as dental assistants, and the class science GPA is 3.5 and cumulative GPA is 3.54.

At UMKC they also have the one dental hygiene program in the Kansas City area that offers a full bachelor’s degree. That was one factor in Shannon Finneran’s choice of UMKC, along with the school’s “tremendous reputation and challenging academics.”

Finneran moved to Kansas City from Illinois four years ago and completed her preliminary classes at UMKC, in addition to working as a dental assistant for three years.

“The hands-on experiences that I gained have renewed my passion for dental hygiene and solidified that I am meant to be a dental hygienist,” Finneran said. “I thoroughly enjoy direct patient care. I want to be able to educate future patients on the importance of oral health for whole body wellness.”

Starting their School of Dentistry education during a pandemic wasn’t what the new classes originally had in mind. But with the school’s extensive preparation and precautions making a good impression, students said they were both excited and reassured.

“It is definitely a weird time to be starting dental school … a unique experience,” Daniel said. “But all you can control is your attitude and respond to the situation you are given. I think UMKC is doing everything that can be done to prepare us and make this unusual time be as seamless as possible.”

Finneran added: “I am extremely excited to begin this next phase of my academic career. This is an unusual time for us all, but I think the UMKC SOD has done an excellent job in implementing proper training and guidelines to follow, so that all students are able to start their programs safely. This will be quite the experience, but we are all in this together.”

Enjoy photos here.


Dean Pyle to Become Senior Scholar at ADEA

Marsha Pyle, DDS, MEd, who is retiring in September as dean of the School of Dentistry, will be the next senior scholar in residence for the American Dental Education Association.

“I am very excited to be joining the ADEA team,” said Dean Pyle, who will succeed her friend and mentor Leo Rouse in the scholar’s role.

Dean Pyle will work directly with the ADEA president and CEO, Karen P. West, especially in academic areas that represent changing knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and skills across the health professions. She also will work on staff diversity and inclusion and with the association’s corporate supporters.

In her 12 years as dean of the School of Dentistry, Dean Pyle accomplished advances in curriculum to make UMKC a leader in preparing graduates for the world of digital dentistry. She oversaw many advances in technology in the school’s in-person and simulation clinics, capped by last year’s opening of the school’s state-of-the art Pre-clinical Lab. And when the pandemic hit, Dean Pyle worked tirelessly to ensure that all members of the DDS Class of 2020 and Dental Hygiene Class of 2020 could graduate on time.

Dean Pyle also is no stranger to national leadership and the ADEA. She came to UMKC from Case Western Reserve University, where she had already led innovations in dental curriculum innovation, recognized by the ADEA William J. Gies Awards for Vision, Innovation and Achievement. Her previous ADEA posts include chair of the ADEA Annual Session & Exhibition Planning Committee, the curriculum project for older adults and the Macy curriculum projects. She also has been chair of the American Dental Association’s Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations.

“I’m delighted that Dr. Pyle has accepted this appointment and will be sharing her expertise and insights with us,” Dr. West said. “The senior scholar in residence program is a unique way that we can leverage the knowledge and experience of leaders in dental education to help ADEA reach new heights.”


Dr. Cox Receives BioNexus KC Grant to Further Pediatric Research

BioNexus KC has recently awarded three $50,000 grants to area scientists to support research focused on pediatric genetic diseases. The partnership with the Paul Patton Trust launched in 2007 and has awarded 40 grants totaling $2.4 M for this important area of research. The funds to support these studies are provided by the Paul Patton Trust, Ted C. McCarter, William Evans, Jr., and Bank of America, N.A. Trustees.

One recipient is our own Dr. Timothy Cox, Endowed Chair in Mineralized Tissue Research (Department of Oral and Craniofacial Sciences), whose research into the cellular mechanisms underlying cleft lip/palate also received NIH/NIDCR R01 grant support in 2019. Cleft lip/palate (CLP) is one of the most common birth defects, affecting 1 in 700 live births globally. The causes of CLP among most infants are unknown and in many cases occurrence and severity is impossible to predict. The severity of CLP determines how many surgeries will be necessary to improve appearance, breathing, hearing and speech and language development.

The numerous research projects underway in the Cox lab collectively strive to improve strategies for diagnosis, risk counseling for families and development of interventional therapies. “It is hoped that in the future we will be able to intervene early to reduce the incidence and severity of cleft lip/palate and thus reduce the numbers of surgeries these children must undergo,” Dr Cox said.

With this grant funding from BioNexus KC, Dr Cox will be testing a new hypothesis about the role of somatic mutation in the susceptibility and variability of cleft lip/palate. Dr Cox and his bioinformatics analyst, Dr Soumya Rao, will apply three complementary sequencing technologies to capture genetic differences in embryonic facial tissue to determine how this may impact the disease.

“We are really grateful to BioNexus KC for this award as it solidifies our Kansas City collaborations with Children’s Mercy’s Center for Pediatric Genomics and De Novo Genomics at KU Medical Center — a tri-institution partnership,” Cox said. “Equally important, the funding will allow us to generate critical preliminary data and the opportunity to build new bioinformatic workflows and capacity within the UMKC system. This will place us in an excellent position to secure longer-term funding from the National Institutes of Health.”

Dr Cox said. “Although obviously exciting for our own work on cleft lip/palate, results from this project may ultimately help us understand how individual-specific genetic mutations (like somatic mutations — those not inherited from a child’s parents) contribute to the risk of being born with any birth defect.”