Background Community service-learning (CSL) has been proposed as one way to enrich medical and dental students' sense of social responsibility toward people who are marginalized in society. Aim We developed and implemented a new CSL option in the integrated medical/dental curriculum and assessed its educational impact. Methods Focus groups, individual open-ended interviews, and a survey were used to assess dental students', faculty tutors' and community partners' experiences with CSL. Results CSL enabled a deeper appreciation for the vulnerabilities that people who are marginalized experience; students gained a greater insight into the social determinants of health and the related importance of community engagement; and they developed useful skills in health promotion project planning, implementation and evaluation. Community partners and faculty tutors indicated that equal partnership, greater collaboration, and a participatory approach to course development are essential to sustainability in CSL. Conclusions CSL can play an important role in nurturing a purposeful sense of social responsibility among future practitioners. Our study enabled the implementation of an innovative longitudinal course (professionalism and community service) in all 4 years of the dental curriculum.