Serving San Antonio and South Texas
Continuing the Tradition of Caring for the Underserved
Students in the School of Dentistry learn to understand the needs of underserved populations not just through textbooks, statistics and lectures. In the dental school, community outreach is embedded into the curriculum, giving dental students multiple opportunities to work with underserved patients and allowing them to gain firsthand knowledge and experience.
The dental school conducts a dynamic community outreach initiative with 20 affiliated sites in San Antonio and South Texas.
Juanita Lozano-Pineda, D.D.S. Class of 1987, M.P.H., associate dean for external affairs and associate professor of comprehensive dentistry, said these outreach programs are part of the school’s mission to improve the health of all community members. “We are able to fulfill this mission by having programs that provide much-needed oral health care while training our students to be more engaged in our communities.”
The curriculum includes community-based rotations scheduled throughout students’ four years. While some rotations are a required part of the curriculum, other one- or two-week selectives, which are optional rotations chosen by students, are done during spring break or the six-week summer break.
During the academic year, first-year students are required to provide fluoride and varnish treatments at Head Start outreach centers, and to provide nutritional counseling, oral health screenings and oral hygiene instruction at elementary schools.
As second-year students, they provide dental exams and sealants with the City of San Antonio dental team and at elementary schools in the San Antonio Independent School District; engage in an interprofessional learning experience with nursing students at Roy Cisneros Elementary school in the Edgewood I.S.D. and provide school-based preventive care to children, and work with the homeless population at Haven for Hope.
Third-year students perform rotations at the Ricardo Salinas Clinic on the west side of San Antonio. During the summer, they can work at community health centers around South Texas. Seniors do two-week rotations at community health centers in San Antonio, Harlingen and Laredo. They also do a required rotation at Haven for Hope. Fourth-year students have one-week pediatric rotations at the Laredo Health Department and at the Ricardo Salinas Clinic.
Dr. Lozano-Pineda said dental students gain an understanding of “why, where and how these safety-net clinics operate. They read about them and learned about them in class, but until they see how they provide crucial oral health care to those most in need, they don’t understand their importance.
“Our hope is that some students who are from these underserved populations will go back and work there. Through research we conducted this summer, we found that of the dentists who are practicing in underserved counties in South Texas, 38.9 percent are our graduates,” she said. “Our research also showed us that within the next 10 years, 46 percent of the dentists practicing in these South Texas counties will be within retirement age or retiring. By exposing students to these underserved areas, we hope we can help provide future dental care providers in these underserved counties.”