In his youth, Amjad Khuffash was cruelly teased for his crooked teeth. The Palestinian-American, born and raised in McAllen, Texas, rarely saw a dentist due to poverty, a common problem in the Rio Grande Valley where he grew up.
Now Khuffash wants to make sure that other people in similar circumstances don’t go without dental care. The Hunt School of Dental Medicine, Texas’ first dental school for over 50 years and the only dental school in West Texas and the Paso del Norte area, is helping make his dream come true.
“Some of the most important factors that inspired me to pursue dentistry were the poverty and lack of necessary dental care that I experienced growing up,” said Khuffash, a member of the Hunt School of Dental’s inaugural class. Medicine. “After dental school, I plan to provide affordable dental care to residents of the Rio Grande Valley, so others don’t grow up experiencing what I’ve been through.”
Khuffash’s orientation reflects the values of the dental school, especially given the ethnic and socio-economic similarities between his hometown and the El Paso region. In 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 saw a dentist. In El Paso County, there is only one dentist for every 4,840 people, compared to the national average of one dentist for every 1,638.
The Hunt School of Dental Medicine opened in July 2021 on the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso campus to change those numbers. Before opening its doors, faculty and 35 community dentists began interviews with students for the school’s inaugural class in September 2020, narrowing more than 900 applications to just 40 places available in the class of 2025.
Students train in the school’s Dental Learning Center, which includes 80 stations equipped with high-tech simulation mannequins and a manufacturing lab where students fabricate dental appliances using 3D scanners and CAD machines. / Advanced CAMs. This state-of-the-art facility enables students to practice modern dentistry for 2025 and beyond.
Eliminate health care disparities
The school offers a program that trains students to serve socially and culturally diverse communities in order to eliminate health care disparities in Borderland and beyond. The community service and public health components are essential as students learn more about local health care topics, barriers, and community advocacy.
Sydnye Fields, a member of the First Class of Students, said she will never forget her first community service event.
“We were immersed in the community of El Paso and shared the importance of oral health,” said Fields, who is fluent in Spanish. “It was amazing having these conversations with so many people, most of them Spanish speaking. Many of them didn’t know they needed to take care of their teeth until we shared how important it was. It is so much more meaningful to know that we are reaching a population that is often overlooked due to socioeconomic disparities.
The Hunt School of Dental Medicine provides a unique education to students through hands-on, culturally competent training and an introduction to early clinical experiences in a diverse population. As part of the program requirements, dental students learn medical Spanish, bridging language and cultural barriers to provide the highest quality oral health care. It is the first and only dental school in the country to require Spanish lessons.
First clinical experience
Perhaps most appealing to dentists in training is the rapid immersion in supervised clinical practice, which is at the heart of the curriculum.
As part of efforts to improve accessibility to oral health care in the community, the Hunt School of Dental Medicine offers discounted dental care at its 38,000 square foot public dental clinic, Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic. The clinic has 145 treatment chairs where students work with faculty to provide oral health care to residents of Borderland.
Students started working at the clinic a few months after arriving on campus, a unique opportunity as most dental schools do not offer clinical experience until the second year.
Anna Ceniceros, a member of the first class of students, grew up in Clarendon, Texas, a small town of just over 2,000 people. The child of migrant farm workers and first-generation college graduate, she has waited since childhood to sit in the dentist’s chair and believes clinical experience puts what she is there for at the forefront.
“When I was in first grade, I had no idea who a dentist was. Then, in class, we took a field trip to visit the nearest dentist two hours away. While I was in line, my classmates walked out of their exam talking about their cavities. I didn’t know what a cavity was, but I could tell it wasn’t good.
By the time it was her turn to sit in the patient’s chair, she was in a bundle of nerves, but felt calm and excited as she left the room.
“He explained everything to me in a way that made sense, calmed my nerves and told me I didn’t have cavities. Before leaving the room, he gave me a puppy sticker that I still have today. I never stopped thinking about that day, and I never stopped thinking about becoming a dentist myself. Now I am doing what I have dreamed of for decades.
Stay in an area of need
The Hunt School of Dental Medicine not only trains a unique group of graduates, but also encourages them to stay in West Texas and in underserved areas.
In the past 10 years, only 22 of 2,390 Texas dental school graduates have chosen to practice in West Texas. Since most graduating dentists establish their practices near their dental schools, the Hunt School of Dental Medicine will help alleviate the severe shortage of dentists in the Paso del Norte area.
El Paso-born and raised student Steven Venzor plans to help fill this shortage when he finishes his dental education. As a child, he received dental treatment in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. His experiences have been difficult, from the long lines at the point of entry to the quality of oral care he received.
“As I got older, I realized that everyone had different ideas about what a dentist is, based on their own experiences,” he said. “I want to show people, people who have had negative experiences like me, that a dentist can be of help. The people I want to reach are those in my own community. El Paso is my city. If there is anyone who can understand the community, it is someone like me who has lived here all my life. I know how unique and special it is, and see the need for it. “
Student Paulette Ramirez, who underwent extensive dental treatments as a child, is also planning to practice in the Paso del Norte area after dental school.
“I grew up in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and as a teenager I attended college there. I started high school in El Paso, crossing the Santa Fe Bridge every day, ”Ramirez said. “At the time, my parents didn’t speak English and we were constantly seeing doctors for dental treatment and surgeries. I saw with my own eyes what makes a good dentist by watching them put my mom at ease because they explained everything so patiently. Each meeting was a learning experience and a moment of inspiration for me.
Like his peers, Ramirez plans to make an impact on others, particularly by creating awareness of oral hygiene in underserved communities.
“We can have such a big impact on the oral health of the region because we share the importance of oral hygiene with others, some who don’t even know what oral hygiene is. dental, ”Ramirez said. “But the impact doesn’t just affect the people we serve. It affects us every time we walk into the clinic or help someone get their smile back. We are doing something that we have dreamed of for years, and what we are doing is changing lives. It’s an incredible feeling.
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