Founded in 1867, the Harvard Dental School was the first dental school in the United States to be affiliated with a university and its medical school. Five students were admitted to its first class. The School's first Dean, Dr. Nathan Cooley Keep, was a prominent Boston physician and strong proponent of dental education. The tower, or castle "keep," that appears in the School's shield honors Dr. Keep.

In 1940, the School was reorganized and its name was changed to the Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) to place stronger emphasis on the biological basis of oral medicine and to institute multidisciplinary programs of dental research—a major strength of the School today. An innovative curriculum placed dental students in joint classes with medical students for two years of basic science and pathophysiology. Graduates were granted both the DMD and MD degrees.

In 1957, the School of Dental Medicine was awarded a National Institute of Dental Research training grant and began to expand and enhance its postdoctoral educational programs, combining advanced clinical and biomedical research training for dentists planning careers in academic dentistry. Several postdoctoral programs were developed, including a four-year program leading to a doctor of medical sciences (DMSc) degree in oral biology; a five- and six-year oral and maxillofacial surgery/MD/general surgery program; and a group of three- and four-year joint-degree programs combining advanced clinical training and research in health-care systems, health policy, or biomedical sciences.

A new curriculum for predoctoral students that began in 2015, integrates oral health and primary care and gives first year DMD students the opportunity to gain primary care clinical experience earlier with rotations in the Student Teaching Practice. HSDM provides students with an intellectual experience that reflects the biological underpinnings of oral and systemic health, the value of evidence-based research, and the importance of clinical study. Advanced graduate students also draw upon the richness of the educational facilities and research institutes of the broader Harvard community and greater Boston area. 

Located in the Longwood Medical Area of Boston, the Harvard School of Dental Medicine offers an unparalleled learning environment. The contributions of HSDM’s faculty and alumni to oral and systemic health, and to the profession, resonate around the globe.