Lyon College names dean for state's first dental school

The Lyon Building on the Lyon College campus in Batesville is shown in this December 2005 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staton Breidenthal)
The Lyon Building on the Lyon College campus in Batesville is shown in this December 2005 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staton Breidenthal)

Lyon College named a dean for its new dental school, the state's first.

Dr. Burke Soffe, currently assistant dean for faculty development and curriculum at the Roseman University of Health Sciences College of Dental Medicine in Utah, will lead what will be Arkansas' first dental school, Lyon College announced Wednesday. 

Soffe will serve in an advisory capacity for the next several months before he officially begins his duties at Lyon’s School of Oral Health and Dental Medicine on July 1.

“I was intrigued with the idea of joining Lyon College to develop not just a stand-alone dental school, but also a dental home safety net for the entire state that includes partnerships with local dentists and clinics,” Soffe said in a news release from Lyon College. “As founding dean, I look forward to addressing the oral health needs of the underserved across Arkansas.”

Arkansas is one of only 14 states that do not have a dental school or college, according to listings from the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

The state also fares poorly in dental health, ranking near the bottom compared to other states. Arkansas had just 41.82 dentists per 100,000 people in 2019, ranking it ahead only of Alabama, according to the national Library of Medicine.

Lyon College is collaborating with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences on the state’s first dental school, joining forces where practicable and identifying opportunities for joint teaching, research, graduate education and professional development that benefit students and faculty, under a memorandum of understanding announced in November 2022. 

The School of Oral Health and Dental Medicine will also be joined by a veterinary school in Lyon’s Institute of Health Sciences, and the college hopes to begin offering classes for students in both the dental and veterinary schools next year or in 2025.

In May 2022, officials announced that OneHealth Education Group, a partner in the Institute of Health Sciences endeavor with Lyon College, would purchase downtown Little Rock’s Heifer International campus to house the veterinary and dental schools. Heifer opened the $17 million campus in 2006, and Heifer International will remain on the campus, leasing space from OneHealth.

Lyon College is a private higher education institution based in Batesville.