Graduate Following Mentors’ Footsteps
By Kristen Zapata
Kara Tapangan, DDS Class of 2019, lives a life with no regrets. She’s a successful cosmetic and comprehensive dentist in the San Antonio area who was recently voted as having the “2021 Best Dental Practice” in the San Antonio Current.
Hailing from Harlingen, Texas, Dr. Tapangan initially relocated to San Antonio to earn her Bachelor of Science in Biology from St. Mary’s University. All her sights were set on studying dermatology, but a gap year spent carefully curating her popular fashion blog and shadowing dentists had her reconsidering her future.
Dr. Tapangan busied herself applying to dental schools and was initially accepted by a school in North Texas. She bought a home, furnished it, and settled in when a call from her father opened a new path. He told her she was accepted to UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry and her mom asked, “What do you want to do?”
She quickly considered the dentists she admired most and all were UT Health San Antonio alumni: Linda Burke, DDS, 1999 postdoctoral training; her beloved personal pediatric dentist, Stephanie Jackson, DDS Class of 1995, chief dental officer at Su Clinica Harlingen where she volunteered growing up; and B. Octavio Elizondo, DDS Class of 1998, a mentor back home whose practice is where she did most of her shadowing.
Her choice was made—she was selling her place and moving to San Antonio.
Dental school was challenging she recalls, but surrounded by a strong faculty support system, she was able to excel.
“Dr. William Rose and Dr. Joseph Connor were incredible,” she said. “Dr. Rose would stay late to make himself available and to this day consults with me on difficult cases, and Dr. Stephanie Jackson and Dr. Nasser Barghi were great mentors.”
William Rose, Jr., DDS, serves as general practice group 3 leader, the student clinical group Dr. Tapangan was assigned to in school. He considers her “a superb example of the highest quality of young people who graduate from our school.”
“At the beginning of her fourth year of dental school, she demonstrated the necessary desire and drive to be successful. She has continued her search for excellence in her practice as she provides the highest quality of care. She is a wonderful, caring person. I am honored to be able to call her my friend,” Dr. Rose added.
Well over two years since graduation, Dr. Tapangan has grown roots in San Antonio; “we actually broke ground,” she shares about her home now under construction.
She has embraced the holistic approach to dentistry that she was trained in and truly takes the time to learn about each patient who sits in her chair. Just ask her new patients who are greeted by name at the front desk, provided a full tour of the facility, and receive a thorough interview prior to their examination.
Dr. Tapangan is an associate dentist at Sonterra Dental, a local practice formerly owned by one of her faculty mentors, E. Penn Jackson, DDS, and is steadily working toward partnership. Her business partner, Woods Woolwine, DDS, has reinforced the value of lifelong learning.
“He’s why I get to practice the way I do. His mentorship—in addition to extensive continuing education and advanced training in implant, esthetic, and comprehensive dentistry—allows me to be able to provide high-quality dental care in a practice centered around patient relationships.”
Dr. Tapangan urges new graduates to invest in continuing education right out of dental school. “Wait to buy that car or take that vacation; keep living like a student,” she said. “You’re good in school because someone is helping you to be good. San Antonio has an excellent reputation for preparing dental students, but you truly need to keep learning!”
Dr. Tapangan and her fiancé, Aaron, a physical therapist, are joining forces to develop a curriculum aimed at educating dental professionals on preventing injuries typically experienced by dental providers. “By working together, I believe we can help dental providers minimize injuries so they can continue to provide the best oral care to their patients.”
While the School of Dentistry’s reputation and proven ability to produce excellent dental care providers are what brought her to San Antonio, Dr. Tapangan said this is now her home. “My way to San Antonio may have seemed accidental, but I have no regrets,” she added.