Texas will soon get a fourth dental school, located at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) El Paso, thanks to a $25 million gift from the Woody and Gayle Hunt Family Foundation. In the fall of 2020, the Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine will be the first dental school to open in the Lone Star State in nearly 50 years and the first ever in West Texas and on the Mexico-Texas border.
“This new school at TTUHSC El Paso will have a significant impact on oral health care in the Paso del Norte region and West Texas,” said university president Richard Lange, MD, MBA. “Our region is severely underserved when it comes to dentistry, and by establishing a school here in the heart of the Borderplex, we expect to retain dentists in our area to help fill this gap.”
The US Department of Health and Human Services has classified El Paso County as a dental Health Professional Shortage Area. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the county currently has about one dentist for every 5,000 residents, compared to the state average of one for every 2,760. This translates to about 172 dentists serving a population of nearly 860,000.
Additionally, more than a third of the dentists in Texas are at or nearing retirement age, Lange said. About 100 of the 172 dentists in El Paso are 55 years or older. Meanwhile, lack of dental care has been linked to disorders like heart disease, stroke, pneumonia, diabetes, and cancer, all leading causes of death in El Paso county, Lange continued.
“This extraordinary gift strengthens our founding mission to serve the needs of our communities, region, and state and adds to Woody and Gayle Hunt’s astounding legacy of philanthropy at TTUHSC El Paso,” said Robert Duncan, chancellor or the Texas Tech University System. “We are immensely grateful to the Hunt family for their continued generosity and support of excellence.”
The dental schools currently operating in San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas all are located more than 500 miles away from El Paso. Together, they graduate about 300 students a year. Between 2007 and 2011, though, only 13 of these graduates took up practice in El Paso. Woody Hunt believes the new dental school will solve these issues.
“Our immediate goal is to attract bright medical talent and young men and women who are eager to stay in El Paso to practice dentistry,” Hunt said. “In the longer term, the school will help alleviate oral health problems in our region, as well as serve as a significant enhancement to our overall quality of life in the Borderplex.”
While 60% of the adult population in the United States visits the dentist each year, less than half of adults in El Paso see their dentist annually, according to the university. Also, TTUHSC El Paso will apply for approval for the new school from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and for accreditation from the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Admissions will open in 2019.
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