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In addressing shortage, new dental school to open in Western Texas

September 09, 2016 Infographic of dental schools in Texas
El Paso, Texas — In an effort to address a shortage of dentists in the region, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso announced Sept. 6 that it will open the state’s fourth dental school, estimated to open in 2020.

The Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine will be the first dental school to open in the state in nearly 50 years and the first to be located in West Texas and on the U.S.-Mexico border. The school is expected to admit about 25 students in its first year.

“Our region is severely underserved when it comes to dentistry, and by establishing a school here in the heart of the [region], we expect to retain dentists in our area to help fill this gap,” said university President Richard Lange, M.D.

El Paso County has been classified as a dental Health Professional Shortage Area by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to a news release. The county currently has about one dentist for every 5,000 residents, compared to the state average of one for ever 2,760, according to a Texas Department of State Health Services study.

The shortage has significant consequences on access to health care and overall health, according to Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, adding that less than half of El Paso adults visit the dentist annually.

The opening of the new dental school is made possible due to a $25 million gift from the Woody and Gayle Hunt Family Foundation, a private family foundation founded in 1987.

Photo of  Richard Lange, M.D., Gayle Hunt and Woody Hunt, Rick Frances and Robert L. Duncan
Opening 2020: (From left) Richard Lange, M.D., president of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso; Gayle Hunt and Woody Hunt, of Gayle Hunt Family Foundation; Rick Frances, Texas Tech University System regent; and Robert L. Duncan, Texas Tech University System chancellor pose for a photo during the Sept. 6 announcement event of the opening of the Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine. The dental school, set to open in 2020, will become Texas’ fourth dental school and the first in West Texas.

“This landmark gift from the Woody and Gayle Hunt Family Foundation, in partnership with [the university] and its mission to improve the lives of our community members, is a testament to the tremendous impact that a few can make by touching the lives of many,” said Victoria Pineda, associate vice chancellor.

Currently, Texas’ three dental schools are located in San Antonio, Houston and Dallas — all more than 500 miles away from El Paso. Together, the three schools graduate about 300 students a year, according to the news release. However, between 2007 and 2011, only 13 graduates or 1.25 percent took up practice in El Paso.

“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,” said Woody Hunt, foundation chairman. “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 [region].”

The new dental school will apply for approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and accreditation from the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

Photo provided by Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso