Woody L. Hunt School Dental School - Photo courtesy of TTUHSC
The Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine is the first dental school in West Texas. Its inaugural cohort of 40 students will start classes in July. | Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters

Hunt School of Dental Medicine: In This Together

Hunt School of Dental Medicine – As a combat engineering officer in the Marine Corps, Jeremy L. Masten was stationed in the Philippines, providing security to Navy officers offering medical and dental care.

There, he saw how much people on the island of Palawan wanted to see a dentist, even more than a physician.

“I thought it was wonderful how they responded to the opportunities we brought, and how amazing it was to offer something so crucial in such a remote place,” Masten said. 

That’s the moment Masten was inspired to go into dentistry. Now, as a member of the inaugural class of 40 dental students at the Hunt School of Dental Medicine, he hopes to offer crucial dental care to the Borderland. 

Across West Texas, many suffer from poor dental health due to a lack of access to affordable care – in 2017, only 50% of El Paso residents visited a dentist. In El Paso County, there’s only one dentist for every 4,840 residents, compared to the national average of one dentist for every 1,638. The Hunt School of Dental Medicine will change those numbers.  

“Through the Hunt School of Dental Medicine, there’s a convergence of support,” Masten said. “The community and the school are providing an opportunity for us to educate about the importance of dental care and increase access to care for those who may not be able to afford it.”

Life experiences will also complement that care. As a condolence officer in the Marine Corps, Masten notified families of their loved one’s loss. That experience of offering comfort during their darkest days will enhance the compassionate care each student will provide.

The Hunt School of Dental Medicine’s location is perfect for Masten, whose wife is active-duty Army stationed at Fort Bliss. He wanted to be sure his family, which includes three children, ages 7, 4 and 2, would stay together while he was in school. He was also drawn to curriculum that focuses on early clinical integration. A first for any dental school in the nation, Hunt School of Dental Medicine students begin clinical training and patient interaction during their first semester. This also allows students to get to know the region better, something Masten was also drawn to. 

“The sense of community and unity in the region is impressive, and it extends into everyday life,” he said. “There are so many great things I could say about the community, but notably, the pride that extends across the border is unique and special.”

Alanna Huth

As a member of the inaugural class, Alanna Huth, a first-generation college graduate who was raised by a single father, plans to establish a relationship of trust and confidence between the school and the community. 

“Dental care, as well as the costs of care, can be stressful and daunting for many people, but we can help alleviate those anxieties for individuals in our community,” she said.

Huth was always fascinated with the dental offices she visited growing up, which inspired her to become a registered dental assistant. Her husband served in U.S. Marine Corps, deploying three times during his career before medically retiring with a Silver Star and a Purple Heart for saving the lives of his fellow soldiers. It was then the couple decided it was the perfect opportunity for Huth to return to school to pursue dentistry. As a dental student, Huth will balance school and being a wife and mom to a toddler and a baby due in January. 

“I have an amazing support system with my family to help ease that challenge,” Huth said. “My husband Edward has been the most significant source of support for me during this process. With me going back to school as an adult, we became a one-income family. He took on extra hours at work and countless overtime shifts, all while being a source of encouragement for me on days I felt overwhelmed.”

The Hunt School of Dental Medicine is creating access to a unique group of health care heroes as the first dental school on the U.S.-Mexico border. And while 42% of Hunt School of Dental Medicine students come from West Texas and border regions of Texas that have been historically underserved, other students in the inaugural class arrived from locations across the U.S. to achieve their dreams, emphasizing the dental school’s goal to select students based on both academic competitiveness and life experiences. 

Huth and Masten are Alvin T. and Louise E. Johnson Family Scholarship recipients. Renard U. Johnson, owner of Management and Engineering Technologies International Inc. (METI), created the scholarship to honor his parents who put him in a position to succeed in life and give back to the community. Both agree the Hunt School of Dental Medicine inaugural class displays values reminiscent of those they’ve experienced with military life, in that everyone truly has each other’s backs. 

“We’ve become one big team, and everyone is quick to offer a helping hand to make sure no one is struggling or left behind,” Huth said. “We really are all in this together.”

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