IU School of Dentistry moves ahead on $21M expansion

Dentists are famous for telling patients “this might sting a little” as they reach for a drill or needle. Then they watch the patient wince and brace for the worst.

But the Indiana University School of Dentistry is promising a nearly pain-free experience as it embarks on a $21.6 million expansion that will increase the school’s size by about one-third.

“It’s not painful, it’s evolutionary,” said Dr. John N. Williams, dean of the Indiana University School of Dentistry. “Whenever you put a building project of this magnitude into place, change can be a bit disruptive. But I think the transition so far has been really nice.”

The school, on the IUPUI campus, broke ground Friday on the 45,000-square-foot addition. It will house 125 new patient treatment rooms, spread over three floors, that will provide more elbow room for dentists, faculty and patients.

The modern glass-and-steel building will blend with the historic limestone façade on the north side of the original Michigan Street entrance.

An enclosed courtyard will connect all four of the dental school’s buildings on the ground level, and a suspended glass walkway will join the new building with the upper floors of the existing buildings, which were constructed in the 1930s, 1960s and 1970s.

It’s the first significant addition in four decades to the 136-year-old institution, the only dental school in Indiana.

The addition will also house more high-tech equipment, including three-dimensional X-rays, which will give dental students and instructors a more efficient way to diagnose and treat patients.

“We’re really moving the School of Dentistry into a high-tech, digital age,” Williams said.

The school educates more than 70 percent of the dentists in Indiana, and handles about 110,000 patient visits a year. Williams said his goal is to increase the number of patient visits by up to 20 percent.

There are no immediate plans to increase enrollment. The school has about 480 students. Most are four-year students who earn a doctor of dental surgery degree. The rest are international students who spend about two years here.

The addition will be named the James J. Fritts DDS Clinical Care Center, after a 1965 graduate from Rochester who made a “generous donation” toward the new building, the school said in a news release.

The clinical building will be on the site of the former patient parking lot adjacent to the east side of the dental school, bordering Michigan Street, Barnhill Drive and Vermont Street. During construction, patient parking has been moved to the west side of the dental school.

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