In 1967, Saint Louis University's Board of Trustees voted to close SLU's School of Dentistry, which had a four-year enrollment of 350. When the last Doctor of Dental Sciences degrees were conferred in 1971, a program that had begun in 1894 at Marion Sims College of Medicine and was taken over by Saint Louis University in 1903 came to an end.
Dental education had become enormously expensive, and there were too many dentists (a surplus that proved to be temporary). One by one, private universities were ceding the field to the growing number of state-supported schools of dentistry.
Under the leadership of the program chair, Dr. Kenneth Marshall, orthodontic alumni pledged their support to persuade the University administrators and trustees to continue the orthodontic program with the promise that it would be self-supporting. Consequently, when the dental school shut its doors in 1971, graduate work in orthodontics moved forward, funded by expanded clinical services and alumni contributions.
By 1976, when Dr. Lysle Johnston became chairman of the program, it was on such sound footing that research could be expanded. Faculty members and graduate students routinely collaborated with experts in various disciplines of the University, including anatomy, biology, engineering, genetics, physiology, and radiology. Their findings were applied widely including cleft palate correction, tooth alignment, risk assessment, and devising new treatment strategies.
Dr. Peter Sotiropoulos succeeded Dr. Johnston as chairman of the program, realizing that although the need to add specialties was clear, there were major obstacles. While there was a serious shortage of specialists able to treat an aging patient population and a greater public desire to save teeth, money to expand degree programs was hard to come by nationwide.
The Center for Advanced Dental Education overcame those obstacles through an arrangement to offer graduate courses jointly with Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine in Alton, 25 miles north of St. Louis. In a relationship unusual among universities, new programs leading to Saint Louis University degrees would be offered by the faculties of both institutions. Academic courses and clinical work would take place on both campuses.1994
The first joint offering was a master's program in endodontics, the branch of dentistry that deals with diseases of the tooth pulp and related conditions. In 1996, a program was added in periodontics, the specialty in diseases of the gums and tissues supporting the teeth.
In the mid-1990s, administrators began looking for a new home for the Center. They needed to relieve overcrowding, to accommodate the future programs in other specialties, to provide more room for research, and to house electronic equipment for distance education, so that courses and continuing education series could be offered to students and practicing specialists a few miles or hundreds of miles from St. Louis.
The new home was made by adapting and adding to a well-built commercial building, originally constructed as a wood planing mill. Its administrative offices, finished with beautifully milled fine woods, were retained. The 27,500 square-foot building, on what is now on the eastern end of the Medical Center Campus, was expanded to 47,200 square feet.