Making lives better: one smile at a time

It’s 9 a.m. and there’s already a long line of students forming in front of a metal-framed window on the third floor of UT Health San Antonio’s School of Dentistry. Peering out the window and likely smiling are two of the most inspiring and helpful people on campus.

Welcome to the DS-1 and DS-2 Sim Lab Dispensary, where Jesse Padilla and Lupe Cruz have dedicated their careers to providing dental students with high-tech lab instruments and classroom supplies.

“We dispense everything from Amalgam (used to fill cavities) to Die-keen (used for denture impressions) for first and second-year dental students,” said Cruz, who has worked at the dispensary for the past 19 years.

“It gets really busy, but we make sure to take time and answer questions to meet dental students’ needs,” Padilla said. “Our work is not done until every single student has his/her supplies and all the equipment is accounted for.” Padilla has worked alongside Cruz at the dispensary for the past seven years. Dental students can count on the dispensary team and their combined experience of 26 years to obtain the right supplies listed on every syllabus.

“I find working with the first- and second-year dental students most rewarding since the second year of dental school is the toughest. Sure, the challenges will continue throughout dental school, but the second year can make or break you,” said Cruz.

Padilla agreed. “Once the students make it to the third year, things get easier. Learning the basics is really challenging for everybody.” Over the years, Padilla and Cruz have assisted around 200 students each academic year.

Its a fast-paced, demanding environment, both said.

” Students love Jesse because he is calm and very patient with them,” Cruz said. “We are both very different, but our personalities balance each other out. We also work really hard, so that’s why we made such a great team.” Working at the dispensary isn’t easy, Padilla said. “There is a lot of work that needs to be done between the classes and behind the scenes,” he said. “Lupe actually worked in UT Health San Antonio Dentistry for five years as a senior dental assistant. So I rely a lot on her knowledge when ordering supplies. I’m still learning even after seven years since there’s a lot of details that come with this role.”

But the rewards are as great as the demands, Cruz said.

“We see our students return to visit us after they have become a successful dentist, endodontist or oral surgeon all over the country. When they come for a visit, we both run out of our office to congratulate them. “We remain in contact with many of our graduates via social media. It makes us proud that a former student has now become a successful dentist. And it just doesn’t get any better than that.” As the School of Dentistry’s graduation approached, Padilla and Cruz were busy preparing inventory for incoming students.

“It’s time to start all over again,” Cruz said. “We really don’t have any breaks after graduation, and we are eager to help the incoming students.”

It’s a smile goodbye to one class and a smile hello to another. Both are proud moments for Lupe Cruz and Jesse Padilla.

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