Woody L. Hunt School Dental School - Photo courtesy of TTUHSC
Woody L. Hunt School Dental School - Photo courtesy of TTUHSC

Hunt School of Dental Medicine and El Paso District Dental Society Host Inaugural Give Kids a Smile Event for Elementary School Students

There were smiles all-around Friday, with many more to spare, as the Hunt School of Dental Medicine and El Paso District Dental Society hosted its inaugural Give Kids a Smile event Friday at the Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic on the campus of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso.

The fun-filled event offered an opportunity for dental students to provide basic dental care to local children and teach them the importance of preventative care.

It was all part of the Give Kids a Smile® program established by the American Dental Association in 2003. The ADA initiative has benefitted over 300,000 children from around the nation with free oral health education, screenings and treatments.

Hunt School of Dental Medicine students, supervised by faculty, treated youngsters from EPISD’s Zavala Elementary School. Zavala and TTUHSC El Paso are both part of the 79905 neighborhood in central El Paso, which the university strives to serve, and making this event even more meaningful.

“The program is more than just a day of providing dental care; it’s a demonstration of our commitment to promoting oral health and well-being in our communities,” said Todd Parco, D.D.S., M.S.D., associate professor of pediatric dentistry. “We’re able to bring much-needed dental care to children who may not have access to quality oral health care otherwise. Our hope is by providing these children with positive dental experiences, we’ll inspire them to make regular dental visits a part of their lifelong oral health care routine.”

Held during National Children’s Dental Health Month, Give Kids a Smile® provides dental services, including cleanings, exams and necessary treatments, to children who may not have regular dental care access. Studies show that upward of 51 million hours of classroom time are lost annually in U.S. schools due to largely preventable oral health conditions, especially among underserved communities along the U.S.-Mexico border and surrounding TTUHSC El Paso.

In addition to providing dental care, Give Kids a Smile® also includes engaging educational activities designed to help children understand the importance of maintaining good oral health.

“I had so much fun!” was a resounding response from Zavala Elementary student Michael Hernandez. “The dentist was so nice and explained everything to me in a way I could understand. I learned a lot about taking care of my teeth. I can’t wait to go back to the dentist.”

The Hunt School of Dental Medicine has a comprehensive and rigorous curriculum that prepares students to become skilled and compassionate dental health care providers. Unlike other dental schools, Hunt School of Dental Medicine curriculum combines educational and clinical components in the first year, allowing students to develop knowledge and skills in a hands-on, real-world setting. The curriculum emphasizes the importance of interprofessional collaboration, patient-centered care and community outreach.

“Participating in the event was an incredible opportunity for me,” said Josh Macias, a first-year dental student. “I have friends who attend dental school in Arizona and they can’t believe I’m seeing patients as a first-year student. These kids need to be seen today and we’re ready to care for them.”

Through events like this, Hunt School of Dental Medicine students give back to our Borderplex community and make a positive impact on the lives of those in need. This not only benefits children and families who receive care, but it also helps dental students develop a sense of purpose and empathy that will serve them well as dental health care providers.

Combined with a critical need to provide oral health care access to traditionally underserved communities, the establishment of the Hunt School of Dental Medicine and Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic has already made an impact in the region since opening in 2021. Its students have experienced over 5,000 patient visits, logging in more than 7,100 clinical hours. As upward of 75% of dental school graduates open practices near their dental schools, Hunt School of Dental Medicine graduates are expected to address the oral health care needs along the U.S.-Mexico border for many years to come.

Established in 1921, the El Paso District Dental Society unites West Texas dentists in their mission to improve public health. The society promotes education, advocacy and excellence to their members and the public.

This was the second event that involved Zavala Elementary School. In October, 40 third- through fifth-graders participated in Neighborhood Smiles Day where they received free basic dental services from the clinic.

The Hunt School of Dental Medicine and Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic invite the El Paso community to visit the clinic, which provides low-cost dental care. To schedule an appointment, call 915-215-6700, or visit the Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic online.