The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio School of Dentistry received a grant renewal of $2.7 million over the next four years to fund its Hispanic Center of Excellence.
The funding, provided by the Health Resources and Services Administration, comes just as updated information from the U.S. Census Bureau officially confirmed that Hispanic Texans are the largest demographic group in the state at 40.2%, surpassing non-Hispanic white residents for the first time — a milestone that has been long forecast.
The School of Dentistry established its Hispanic Center of Excellence in 2013 with a commitment to provide educational opportunities that focus on increasing the number of health professionals in the field of dentistry from underrepresented minority groups, as well as those from underserved areas.
“Those considered underrepresented minorities in the dental profession are African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanics,” said Juanita Lozano-Pineda, DDS, MPH, associate professor and the center’s director. “It’s critical to increase their numbers across our state because they are an answer to oral health care barriers in underserved areas.”
Pineda said many South Texas counties do not have enough dental professionals to provide adequate care coverage in the communities they serve. Hispanic residents and people of color make up a majority of these underserved communities.
“This is where the work of the HCOE is important in those areas,” Pineda said. “Introducing the profession of dentistry as a career option to South Texas high school and college students increases the likelihood of them applying to dental school.”
A majority of graduates from South Texas return to their home communities to practice, she added.
Since the center’s inception in 2013, there has been a 56.4% increase in School of Dentistry applicants who are from an underrepresented minority group.
Additionally, over the past five years, the Hispanic Center of Excellence had 129 college students from San Antonio and South Texas participate in its Learning Enhancement for Achievement in Dentistry summer program, which provides opportunities for strengthening academic science foundations, Dental Admissions Test preparation and leadership skills development.
Nearly half of those participants applied to dental school; 73% of them were offered admission to one or more Texas dental schools and 63% of those offered admission accepted their invitation to train in San Antonio.
“Look at our state, look at where our school is located on the northern border of South Texas,” Pineda said. “We must attract [underrepresented minority groups] to dentistry so the demographics of the profession mirror the demographics of our state. That is what this grant will help us continue to do.”