Dental School a Lifeline for Arkansas Oral Health

Kristi Crum Commentary

Dental School a Lifeline for Arkansas Oral Health
From left: Lyon College President Melissa Taverner, Merritt Dake of OneHealth Education Group and Hilary Haddigan, chief of mission effectiveness at Heifer International, announce plans for dental and veterinary schools at the Heifer campus in Little Rock on May 19, 2022. (File Photo) (Sarah Campell-Miller)

As the leader of a progressive, multidisciplinary oral health care organization with almost 100 affiliated practices across the state and beyond, I have firsthand knowledge of the dentist shortage in Arkansas. That’s why our team at Rock Dental Brands is thrilled by the recent announcement that Lyon College of Batesville is planning to open a dental school in Little Rock, right around the corner from our support center. It is encouraging news for our industry and — most importantly — for the health of Arkansans.

The proposed dental school will provide a much-needed pipeline to address the issue of oral health care access, the lack of which has contributed to the state consistently ranking among the worst in the country for oral health.

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Arkansas came in last in an Express Dentist ranking of dental health by state published Jan. 1. Express Dentist is a national dental provider. The study looked at 25 factors of dental health, and Arkansas scored the poorest, behind the 49 other states and Washington, D.C., in terms of availability of dental care, dental habits and oral health status.

A low percentage of Arkansas adults reported visiting the dentist in the past year, and a high percentage of Arkansans over age 65 reported having had all of their teeth removed because of tooth decay or gum disease, according to the study.

It’s easy to see how access to quality dental care is the cornerstone to addressing the issue, because of its potential effect on the other contributing factors. This is especially true for preventive care, which research consistently shows is cheaper and more effective in the long term than treatment. The Express Dentist study placed Arkansas among the lowest for the number of dentists serving its population.

Right now, our team actively recruits dentists from other states. An in-state dental school means we can recruit right here in Arkansas. It also means a direct channel of providers to meet the oral health care needs of Arkansans.

The American Dental Association reports there are only 41 dentists per 100,000 people in our state, the second to lowest in the country, according to 2021 data. The national average is 61 dentists per 100,000 people, with several states showing dentist counts in the 70s and 80s. The access issue in Arkansas is most pronounced in low-income rural areas.

Poor dental health has wide-reaching negative effects on individuals and the community. It is linked to other health issues like heart disease and also affects mental health. 

At Rock Dental Brands, we carry our own responsibility to promote access through education and combating misconceptions about the cost of care that might prevent low-income individuals from making appointments. We offer flexible finance options for patients to ensure that finances don’t get in the way of quality dental care. Our core mission is to make quality care attainable for all patients throughout their lifetimes.

Our team looks forward to working with the Lyon College Institute of Health Sciences, and we are happy to have it as our future neighbors at the former Heifer International campus here in Little Rock. Rock Dental Brands strives for incremental progress every day, but this new dental school will transform the industry in a way that will positively affect dental health in our communities for generations to come.


The Express Dentist Survey of dental health, ranked by state, put Connecticut at No. 1 for best oral health in the country, followed by Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts. Arkansas ranked last, No. 51, preceded by West Virginia, No. 50, and Louisiana, No. 49. To see the complete survey, go to 

Kristi Crum is CEO of Rock Dental Brands, a group of doctors who provide multidisciplinary care in pediatric dentistry, orthodontics, general dentistry and oral surgery. The practice management group has 100 affiliate clinics. Get more information at