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Lyon Dental School Plans June 2025 Opening

3 min read

The Lyon College School of Dental Medicine expects to see its first students in June 2025 and then watch them graduate three years later — a year earlier than most dental programs.

Burke Soffe

“We plan to be highly efficient and make sure that our graduates are practice-ready in three years, so that you can get out and make a difference,” Dr. Burke Soffe, the school’s dean, told prospective students during a recent virtual meeting.

The three-year program is designed to save students money as they won’t have to pay for a fourth year of tuition.

Dental tuition has risen “dramatically” since the 1980s, and students are graduating with nearly $500,000 in debt, Soffe said, “and so, we want to change that.”

With mounds of student debt, graduates also are limited to where they can practice. By going to school year-round, students will be ready for the real life of a dentist. “I know no dentists that take summers off,” Soffe said.

Lyon College of Batesville announced the plan for the dental school, along with a veterinary school, in April 2022. After a proposal to place the schools on the Little Rock campus of Heifer International fell apart in November, Lyon said last month that the veterinary school will be in Cabot and the dental school will be in Little Rock at 5 Allied Drive in the Riverdale neighborhood.

Lyon College is starting the school for several reasons, including the fact that Arkansas is the only state with 2.5 million or more people without a dental school.

Arkansas also ranks lowest in oral health and second-lowest in dentist-to-population ratio, and 60% of children have had dental decay, Soffe said. “A quarter of the Arkansas counties have been designated as dental health shortage areas, and 14 counties in 2019 didn’t have a dentist,” he said.

“But one of the biggest reasons why Arkansas needs a dental school is because the average age of dentists in Arkansas is older than 50,” Soffe said.

When those dentists retire, rural areas will lack practitioners to replace them. “So there are huge opportunities to establish a great living and to practice in communities of need, make an impact, and, also at Lyon College, receive a really high-quality dental education,” he said.

Gerald Davis II

Dr. Gerald Davis II, the associate dean, told the prospective students that the biggest challenge of starting the dental school was limiting all the ideas. “We want to do everything awesome and amazing, but … at the same time, you have to, at some point, pull it all in and bring it home and make it concrete and possible,” Davis said.

He said that the amount of collaboration to make the school happen was a challenge. “You’d be shocked how often Dr. Soffe is always on his feet, always on his toes, meeting with someone, flying all over the country to try to make this amazing thing happen,” Davis said.

Before students are enrolled, the dental school must receive approval from the American Dental Association’s Commission on Dental Accreditation. The accreditation team is expected to visit the dental school in September, and a vote on the school is expected at the end of January or early February 2025.

“We obviously are very optimistic about our accreditation progress, but there are things that are out of our control,” Soffe said.

“If — heaven forbid — that the answer was no, … then we would, we would plan to begin in June of 2026,” Soffe said. “But we are planning the first day of class … to be June 30 of 2025, so mark your calendars.”

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