10 Under 10: Public dentistry, teaching inspire Texas new dentist

Photo of Tanya Sue Maestas, D.D.S., brushing toy's teeth

Family fun: Tanya Sue Maestas, D.D.S., is the dental director at La Clinica de Familia Inc. in Chaparral, New Mexico, a federally qualified health center serving low-income patients in the surrounding community.

The new dental school in El Paso, Texas, isn't just inspiring dreams and ambitions of future dentists. It's also sparking some excitement and goals for Tanya Sue Maestas, D.D.S.

Dr. Maestas is a 2022 ADA 10 Under 10 Award winner and a new faculty member and adviser at Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. She's also the dental director at La Clinica de Familia Inc. in Chaparral, New Mexico, a federally qualified health center serving low-income patients in the surrounding community.

Dr. Maestas values both jobs because they allow her to serve people with unmet needs and to shape other new dentists' interests in public health dentistry. She has been involved at a foundational level in bringing the school to fruition.

"I started around 2019, 2020, with some of the conversations that they were having about the school, starting with some of the curriculum, having conversations even about some of the furniture that they were going to bring into the building," Dr. Maestas said. "So it's kind of fun to see that full circle and now see students in the building."

She started her own dental student career at the University of Texas School of Dentistry in Houston, where she earned her dental degree in 2018 and later an advanced education in general dentistry certificate in 2019.

Dr. Maestas is also currently a student herself, attending A.T. Still University College of Graduate Health Studies, where she is hard at work on her Master of Public Health — Dental Emphasis degree with a dental public health residency certificate.

"That's kind of where I'll be able to blend it all together, public health and teaching, so I can hopefully inspire the next generation to go the public health route," she said, regarding her residency and future master's degree in public health.

Photo of Tanya Sue Maestas, D.D.S., at ASDA event

Involved: Tanya Sue Maestas, D.D.S., who served as president of the American Student Dental Association, speaks during the ASDA Annual Session 2019 in Pittsburgh.

The passion to work with dental students led her to approach Richard C. Black, D.D.S., Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine's founding dean, about opportunities to get involved.

"I've never taught before," Dr. Maestas said. "The reason I wanted to head in this direction was I was really involved in ASDA: I was the American Student Dental Association president as a student, and I got to work with a lot of students. I also was really moved and inspired by the faculty that we had in dental school. They were very pivotal in my education, and I hope that I can share some wisdom in the same way that they did to me to the next generation."

A science project in middle school serendipitously led Dr. Maestas to dentistry.

"In the fifth grade, I did a science project on what drink stains teeth the most and had the opportunity to connect with quite a few local dentists," she said. "From there, the passion and the pursuit of going into dentistry was sparked. I stuck with it, and, thank God, it kind of all worked out. And now we're here."

Initially, Dr. Maestas thought she would go into private practice as a way to ideally help the most people in need. She even had pinpointed a practice that she wanted to buy. She changed courses after finding out about the National Health Service Corps scholarship.

"That's the scholarship that paid for my schooling in return for some service in an underserved community," she said. "For me, going into dentistry was something that I was passionate about, but it was always for the opportunity to give back, to help others. So this kind of fit right in line with what I wanted to do."

After deciding to pursue dentistry, Dr. Maestas wanted to stay near El Paso, where she grew up, for school and work. She considered Arizona and other parts of Texas for the proximity to home.

"Growing up, I was always told that El Paso would never see a dental school," she said. "So I kind of had that in the back of my mind. I didn't know where I was going to end up. But, since then, we know that's changed. Having a dental school here in our backyard really opens a lot of opportunities for me to stay involved with communities here and also to blend my passions and my thoughts of getting into education, so hopefully, I'll make that transition into the future, maybe still do some public health work alongside working at the school."

Photo of Tanya Sue Maestas, D.D.S., with award

Standout: Tanya Sue Maestas, D.D.S., holds one of her many accolades.

Dr. Maestas has a diverse background being a Hispanic woman, bilingual speaker of English and Spanish, and observer of cultural traditions, such as growing up dancing folklorico.

"I did that for a few years," she said. "I have a picture that stands out in my mind of my sister and me in a traditional folklorico dress. We would have recitals, almost like ballet but for this specific kind of folkloric, cultural dance. I didn't appreciate it when I was young. It's kind of just something that your parents put you in, and you kind of just did it. But, as I became older and even now, I've come to have a greater respect for it. It's really ingrained in the culture."

Although she's active at her church, sings in the choir, spends time with family, and runs, swims and works out on her Peloton, Dr. Maestas also finds a fun factor in work.

"Organized dentistry is fun for me," she said. "I would say that on my off time, I do a lot of that."

In fact, she's already thinking ahead to what more she can do related to the new dental school.

"I think as the students get older and progress into their third and fourth years, I'd like to start helping in some way to have a community clinic open on the weekends," Dr. Maestas said. "That's what I'd like to do, but we're not there yet. It's something to work towards in the next few years."

She is longing to see more diversity in dentistry as well. The pace of change disappoints her.

"What's hard for me to see within organized dentistry is that change is coming, but it's not fast enough," Dr. Maestas said. "We have a lot of young dentists and a lot of diverse dentists who want to get involved, but it's almost like, 'Hey, you've got to wait your turn in line,' instead of, 'You're a great representative of your realm. How can we support you and push you up and forward towards the top?' But I think it's coming. I love the different programs that the states and the ADA are providing to support diversity. I think that it all kind of plays a part in this vision that at least I have."

Dr. Maestas travels 45 minutes each way to work and home for her job in Chaparral. Diversity definitely matters in the work setting at the clinic.

"Many of the patients that I see here are immigrants to the city," she said. "Many of them do not speak English. Many of them are not citizens. Many of them — this is their first time that they've ever been to a dentist. So it can be rewarding in a lot of ways and challenging in many ways as well. But the opportunity to provide education to our patients is really key, at least for me. I have great conversations with a lot of our patients that we see coming through here, and it is wonderful to provide care to the community that has great need."

Learn more about the 10 Under 10 Awards program and read about the other winners at ADA.org/10under10.