By Sanaz Zareei Chaleshtori – Courtesy of El Paso Inc.
The much-anticipated opening of the Hunt School of Dental Medicine at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso has created quite the buzz among El Paso college students who dream of going into dentistry, myself included.
When the dental school opens this summer, it will be the fourth in the state of Texas, as well as the first to open in the state in more than 50 years. It will also be the first dental school on the U.S.-Mexico border. Excitement over the dental school’s opening, and the number of opportunities it will provide, can be felt among my peers in the Pre-Dental Society at the University of Texas at El Paso.
Over the past year, our group has received important guidance from the dental school regarding admissions, so students now know more about what dental schools are looking for, even if some of us are applying elsewhere.
Despite being competitive applicants, some of El Paso’s top students have not been given the opportunity to interview with Texas dental schools other than the Hunt School of Dental Medicine. Without the school’s existence, they potentially could’ve been denied the opportunity to pursue dentistry.
Knowing the Hunt School of Dental Medicine prioritizes El Paso students is a sigh of relief for the talented individuals who have grown up in the borderland dreaming of entering the field of dentistry.
The opportunity to attend dental school locally has the potential to change the lives of many in our community. It’s accessible to students already living in the region, which will help save on living expenses for any student who chooses to attend, such as nontraditional students in the Pre-Dental Society. These students are usually older and already have families, so they can’t drop everything to attend school out of town.
Another benefit will be the opening of the Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic, where students will gain real-world experience under the supervision of world-class faculty members.
At events, people often ask our organization where they can receive dental services on a student’s budget. Now, they’ll have a place to go. And over the next decade or so, a large number of dental students will graduate and stay in the area, helping our city overcome a severe shortage of dentists.
In El Paso County, there’s only one dentist for every 4,840 residents, compared to the national average of one for every 1,638. And in the past 10 years, only 22 out of 2,390 Texas dental school graduates have chosen to practice in West Texas. Since most graduating dentists establish practices in proximity to their schools, this means that future graduates of the Hunt School of Dental Medicine will vastly improve the state of oral health care in our region.
When I enrolled at UTEP, I never thought a dental school in our community would be a possibility. I’m happy that future borderland students will have the opportunities I wish I had during my time in college, and I look forward to seeing how the Hunt School of Dental Medicine will transform my hometown.
Sanaz Zareei Chaleshtori is a student at the University of Texas at El Paso and vice president of the university’s Pre-Dental Society.