Multimillion Dollar Gift to Establish New Dental School in Texas

SDM annuncement picture

Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso) is set to house Texas’ fourth dental school, thanks to a $25 million gift from the Woody and Gayle Hunt Family Foundation.

The Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine (WLHSDM) will be the first to open in Texas in nearly 50 years, and the first-ever in West Texas, and on the U.S.-Mexico border.

El Paso County suffers from a severe lack of dentists, and has been classified as a dental Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). According to a study by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), El Paso County currently has about one dentist for every 5,000 residents, compared to the state average of one for every 2,760. This translates to about 172 dentists serving a population of nearly 860,000.

This shortage of dentists has significant consequences on access to health care and overall health. Despite poor oral health being linked to devastating conditions like stroke, diabetes and cancer, less than half of El Paso adults visit the dentist annually. Contrastingly, some 60 percent of the U.S. adult population pays a visit to the dentist every year, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

Of the three dental schools that currently call Texas home, all are located more than 500 miles away from El Paso – in San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas. Together, the three schools graduate some 300 students a year, yet few of these graduates opt to practice in the West Texas region. Between 2007 and 2011, only 13 graduates — 1.25 percent of all Texas dental school graduates — took up practice in El Paso.

The TTUHSC El Paso WLHSDM will apply for approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) and accreditation from the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). The WLHSDM will welcome its first class in 2020.