San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and city councilmembers Teri Castillo and Adriana Rocha Garcia, PhD, toured the Center for Oral Health Care and Research, the home to The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio School of Dentistry’s clinical practice, UT Dentistry.
The city officials were able to learn about the school’s long-standing community-based dental initiatives and possible opportunities for the City of San Antonio to partner with the school to expand dental services to residents on the city’s south side.
As chair of the city council’s Community Health Committee, Castillo oversees programs affecting local residents’ quality of life, including those related to public health. She praised the school’s efforts to sustain the Ricardo Salinas Pediatric Dental Clinic, a low-cost dental clinic in her district that serves children and youth up to 17 years of age. The clinic treats over 3,500 children each year from uninsured, low-income and undocumented families residing throughout San Antonio.
Castillo also shared how oral health impacts residents she’s encountered through the city’s Ready to Work program.
“One thing that we see from some formerly incarcerated individuals of the county jail system is they lack the confidence to apply for a job because of the decay in their teeth,” she said. “If they apply and don’t get the job, they feel their smile is what negatively impacted it. So, this is a big important need we see in the community.”
The mayor had a particular interest in the school’s outreach programs, which bring oral health education and dental care services directly to San Antonians in local schools, community centers and senior living facilities.
The School of Dentistry currently has 11 community-based dental training programs dedicated to caring for the residents of San Antonio and South Texas while also educating future oral health care providers through the Dental Education Outreach Network.
This network consists of 76 affiliated training sites, 53 in San Antonio alone, where treatment is conducted by students under the close supervision of dental and adjunct faculty. Numerous affiliation agreements and partnerships with community and migrant health centers, city and county health departments, faith-based non-profit clinics, homeless shelters and others make the network possible.
“San Antonio has a thriving medical ecosystem because of the strategic investments made by entities like UT Health San Antonio,” said Rocha Garcia, also a member of the council’s Community Health Committee. “Access to health care continues to be a challenge so these targeted investments and outreach efforts in communities with prevalent health disparities will help reduce barriers. As an educator, I appreciate the connection of serving under-resourced communities while promoting education opportunities.”
During their visit, the elected officials had the opportunity to tour the clinical facilities, including the Phil and Karen Hunke Special Care Clinic, which was in its final stage of construction. The newly renovated clinic is expected to open late this fall to serve adults and children with developmental and physical disabilities.
Mayor Nirenberg expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to learn about the school’s efforts and pledged his support for initiatives that prioritize San Antonio’s oral health.
“There’s an important link between oral health and mental health and well-being,” Mayor Nirenberg said. “Obviously, we have a glaring need here. By virtue of the way our city has been built and developed, our city’s services are not always located where the people are, so we want to help [the school] fulfill its goal to increase services.”
“We are here to serve our city,” said School of Dentistry Dean Peter M. Loomer, DDS, PhD, MBA. “We’ve done a lot and we can do a lot more. This visit revealed the determination of our local officials to work alongside us in building a healthier and more informed city that values the well-being of all its residents.”