Hunt School of Dental Medicine Faculty Members Focus on Oral Pathology and Public Health

Hunt School of Dental Medicine Faculty Members Focus on Oral Pathology and Public Health

New faculty includes the only board-certified oral pathologist in the region

As new members of the world-class faculty at the Hunt School of Dental Medicine, Professor Angela C. Chi, D.M.D., and Associate Dean of Research Ana Karina Mascarenhas, B.D.S., M.P.H., Dr.P.H., FDS RCPS (Glasg), are establishing a solid educational foundation for the school’s dental students.

The Hunt School of Dental Medicine at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso welcomed its inaugural class of 40 students in the summer of 2021. Drs. Chi and Mascarenhas are among a talented group of faculty who will help lead El Paso and the region to a new era of dental care.

Angela C. Chi, D.M.D.

Dr. Chi brings 20 years of experience and is board certified in oral and maxillofacial pathology, a specialty of dentistry that focuses on diagnosing and treating diseases in the teeth, mucosa, soft tissue, bones, joints, glands and skin around the mouth.

“Oral and maxillofacial pathology represents a relatively small specialty of dentistry and pathology, with only about 300 diplomates actively practicing in the U.S.,” said Dr. Chi, the only oral pathologist within a radius of more than 400 miles of the El Paso region. “Currently, there’s an uneven distribution of dentists across our state, and underserved populations within the border region carry a high burden of oral disease. This includes inflammatory, benign and malignant conditions. The ability to provide unique, specialized services will be of great benefit in supporting the oral health needs of our community.”

While a general pathologist can help with pathology services in the head and neck region, oral and maxillofacial pathologists have a unique understanding of both the pathology and clinical dentistry. Dr. Chi’s scope of practice includes microscopic diagnosis and direct clinical patient care. To better meet the urgent needs within the El Paso community, she’s establishing an oral pathology biopsy service and patient consulting service at the Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic. Patients at the clinic receive discounted rates for oral health care from Hunt School of Dental Medicine faculty and students.

Dr. Chi and Dr. Mascarenhas
Dr. Ana Karina Mascarenhas, left, and Dr. Angela C. Chi, are new members of the world-class faculty at the Hunt School of Dental Medicine.

Dr. Chi graduated with a Doctor of Dental Medicine from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine in 1998 and completed a residency in oral and maxillofacial pathology at Emory School of Medicine. Before going into oral and maxillofacial pathology, she served in the United States Navy Dental Corps while completing an advanced education in the general dentistry program. She then practiced as a general dentist for two years in Yokosuka, Japan, where she cared for sailors aboard the USS Kitty Hawk.

“Our primary mission was to ensure dental readiness, meaning that no major oral health problems would interfere with deployments at sea,” Dr. Chi said. “I learned many valuable lessons regarding service, sacrifice, duty and adapting to change. One unique aspect of my position was working with people from various backgrounds, including officers and enlisted members from different parts of the U.S., and Japanese civilians.”

When Dr. Chi switched paths during her career and transitioned from general dentistry to oral pathology, her experience as a general dentist allowed her to wholly understand the clinical aspects of patient care. Now she’ll use that well-rounded experience to help students understand the connection between oral and systemic health.

In addition to her clinical experience, Dr. Chi has co-authored more than 100 publications, including “Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology,” a textbook widely used in schools across the U.S. and abroad. She’s currently working on the next edition of the World Health Organization’s “Classification of Head and Neck Tumours,” a reference book used by oncologists and pathologists worldwide.

Dr. Chi serves as director for the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, where she assists with certification exams for dentists entering the specialty.

For Dr. Chi, the Hunt School of Dental Medicine is a good fit. The Dental Learning Center, which features 80 stations equipped with high-tech simulation manikins and a fabrication laboratory, allows students to keep up with the changing future of dentistry.

“There’s been an explosion in technology, which is changing the way we deliver all aspects of oral health care,” Dr. Chi said. “In providing dental education, we’ve always emphasized the need for lifelong learning and the ability to provide evidence-based care. However, these skills will become even more important as our field evolves more rapidly in the future.”

Ana Karina Mascarenhas, B.D.S., M.P.H., Dr.P.H., FDS RCPS (Glasg)

Dr. Mascarenhas joins the Hunt School of Dental Medicine with a strong background in public health and a desire to bring culturally competent care for patients in the Borderland. She plans to bring that care by using opportunities for innovation within the school and the community.

“When you bring together an innovative and interprofessional curriculum with a public health focus, you’re better able to see the need and meet the need,” Dr. Mascarenhas said. “One crucial part of that is understanding health conditions that can impact oral health.”  

Diabetes, a prevalent health condition in El Paso, is a large risk factor for gum disease. In El Paso County, 15% of adults have been diagnosed with diabetes, according to the most recent data available from the Texas Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

Another large concern in the El Paso community is obesity, which has common risk factors associated with tooth decay and cavities.

“Training dental students to talk with patients about obesity and diabetes, and providing families with the knowledge and resources to improve healthy eating, physical activity and how our oral health is connected to overall health is important as we build our curriculum,” Dr. Mascarenhas said. “This is a goal we’re focused on alongside our students and community.”

Dr. Mascarenhas didn’t waste time addressing the needs she saw in the community shortly after arriving in El Paso. When she learned refugees in the area were in need of supplies like diapers, baby wipes and baby food, she immediately bought items for the families, then shared their stories with her colleagues. It inspired a supply drive, and before long, she focused efforts on their dental needs. 

“I could see a clear need, and I had an opportunity to help meet it,” Dr. Mascarenhas said. After approaching the Hunt School of Dental Medicine, she arranged for dental students to see and treat the refugees. “It was amazing. Within the first three months of their education, they were treating patients. That’s an example of the impact the Hunt School of Dental Medicine has.”

Dr. Mascarenhas continued communicating with the families and bringing them comfort items, such as ice cream and pain medicine. At one point, she joined a family for tea in their room, an honorable invitation she said wouldn’t have happened if she didn’t seek out the needs around her.

Dr. Mascarenhas received her Bachelor of Dental Surgery from Goa Dental College and Hospital in Goa, India, and her Master of Public Health and Doctor of Public Health from the University of Michigan. She is a diplomate of the American Board of Dental Public Health and vice chair of the American Dental Association’s Council of Scientific Affairs. She has served as the past president and executive director of the American Board of Dental Public Health, and as past president of the American Association for Public Health Dentistry. She has also previously served as a commissioner for the Commission on Dental Accreditation. She is the executive editor of the recently released 7th Edition of Burt and Eklund’s Dentistry, Dental Practice, and the Community.

“I’m excited for the opportunity of this region, particularly as I find out more about the area each week,” Dr. Mascarenhas said. “This space so close to the border allows us all to live in harmony and collaborate on unique circumstances.”