Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso) is set to house Texas’ fourth dental school, thanks to a $25 million gift from the Woody and Gayle Hunt Family Foundation.
The new dental school, named the Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine (WLHSODM), will be the first to open in Texas in nearly 50 years, and the first-ever in West Texas, and on the U.S.-Mexico 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,” says university President Richard Lange, M.D., M.B.A. “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.”
El Paso County suffers from a severe lack of dentists, and has been classified as a dental Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). According to a study by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), El Paso 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.
This shortage of dentists has significant consequences on access to health care and overall health. Despite poor oral health being linked to devastating conditions like stroke, diabetes and cancer, less than half of El Paso adults visit the dentist annually. Contrastingly, some 60 percent of the U.S. adult population pays a visit to the dentist every year, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.
“Real change comes from community leaders coming together for a common purpose,” says TTUHSC El Paso Associate Vice Chancellor Victoria Pineda. “This landmark gift from the Woody and Gayle Hunt Family Foundation, in partnership with TTUHSC El Paso 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.”
“A first for the Texas Tech University System and only the fourth in Texas, the dental school will be vital to addressing the region’s significant shortage of dentists and improving oral health in the Borderplex and the greater area of West Texas,” said Robert Duncan, chancellor of the Texas Tech University System. “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 Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso. We are immensely grateful to the Hunt family for their continued generosity and support of excellence.”
Of the three dental schools that currently call Texas home, all are located more than 500 miles away from El Paso – in San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas. Together, the three schools graduate some 300 students a year, yet few of these graduates opt to practice in the West Texas region. Between 2007 and 2011, only 13 graduates — 1.25 percent of all Texas dental school graduates — took up practice in El Paso.
Woody Hunt, chairman of the Woody and Gayle Hunt Family Foundation, believes the establishment of the new dental school will solve these issues.
“We are confident that this dental school will have a significant impact on the Borderplex, the City of El Paso, and the surrounding region,” says Hunt. “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. 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.”
The TTUHSC El Paso WLHSODM will apply for approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) and accreditation from the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).