Carol Piña, D.D.S.

Dental School delivers in South Texas

Students and patients benefit from progress in clinical training and patient care programs

When Carol Piña, D.D.S., learned back in spring 2008 she would be in the initial group to enter the Dental School’s first full-time dental residencies in Laredo, she was eager to find out what the experience would be like. “I knew there was a great need for dental care here,” she said.

Dr. Piña began the one-year Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) residency in June 2008, then entered the two-year Pediatric Dentistry residency, which she will complete in July 2011.

“It has turned out to be a wonderful experience,” she said.

Carol Piña, D.D.S.

Carol Piña, D.D.S.

What made it so worthwhile were the opportunities to treat patients with a wide variety of dental needs. Because Laredo is part of a Dental Professional Shortage Area that covers most of South Texas, there are few dental specialists in the area. And because of financial limitations, most of the patients cannot seek care elsewhere.

“I’ve learned how to treat children with special needs or serious health issues, such as Down syndrome,” Dr. Piña said. “I’ve also learned how to use oral sedation and have provided care for patients in the operating room, when their treatment or health indicated the need. And because there are fewer dental specialists in Laredo, our clinic has served patients with complex dental problems. We are called upon to treat certain cases that, in a larger city with more providers, would normally be referred to a different specialist.”

The Dental School has offered part-time residencies in prosthodontics since 1995 and periodontics since 2006, through partnerships with Gateway Community Health Center. A part-time public health dentistry residency offered now in three elementary schools was begun in 2006 through an agreement with United Independent School District.

Patients enjoy the friendly environment of the renovated Dental Clinic in Laredo.

Patients enjoy the friendly environment of the renovated Dental Clinic in Laredo.

However, it wasn’t until the city of Laredo received funding to renovate the Laredo Health Department’s Dental Clinic that the Dental School could establish the two full-time residencies, led by South Texas natives and assistant professors Minerva Garcia, D.D.S., and Louis Garcia, D.D.S. The greatly expanded, 6,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility opened in fall 2008 with 15 dental operatories, modern sedation equipment and a bright, welcoming environment.

The Dental School also offers two-week dental student rotations in Laredo in community-based clinical dentistry and primary care dentistry through Gateway, and a summer elective rotation in preventive education through a partnership with Mercy Ministries of Laredo.

William Dodge, D.D.S., vice dean of the Dental School, said, “We think having these programs is an important part of the overall clinical education experience our residents receive. In Laredo, the students and residents see a different patient mix in terms of oral health needs, medical conditions and socioeconomic status. It also exposes them to different clinical challenges and the critical need for oral health care in our region.

“Because most of our students plan to enter private practice, these programs also provide an opportunity to observe other ways of delivering care, such as federal qualified health centers (Gateway) and municipally run health clinics (Laredo Health Department),” he said. “We also hope that through these experiences our graduates will see the value of providing care for those of limited means and will find a way to volunteer occasionally or to include care for the underserved in their practices.”

For Dr. Piña, the residencies in Laredo have been priceless. “It has been great working with excellent faculty and staff in a state-of-the-art clinic,” she said. “And it has been rewarding to provide such a needed service in the city of Laredo.”

Clinical rotation and residency sites

Student rotations and residencies in Laredo are just a part of the clinical education opportunities offered by the Dental School. The school operates its dental clinic located on the San Antonio campus, and offers students additional opportunities at off-campus clinics throughout the city and South Texas.

The number of clinical partners throughout South Texas, including clinics in Brownsville, Eagle Pass, Harlingen, Laredo, Raymondville, Santa Rosa and Somerset.
The number of clinical partners in San Antonio.
The number of dental operatories in the Dental School building in San Antonio.

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