Expanding education

Written by Orith Farago

A vital solution to a South Texas shortage: The School of Dentistry launches Laredo’s first Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene program

When Magda de la Torre, MPH, RDH, graduated from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio with a Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene, she was the only student in her cohort. Little did she know she would later lead the institution’s top-ranked dental hygiene program as its interim director.

And in 2005, when she started the Building Oral Health Care Educational Program to teach dental hygiene students about the lack of oral health care needs in Webb County, little did she know her vision for a Laredo-based dental hygiene class would come to fruition.

A photo of all four dental hygiene students that made up the first Laredo cohort.
Priscilla Lomas (front, center), Jacinda Martinez, Irania Delgado and Carolina Herrera (back, left to right) make up the inaugural class of Laredo’s first Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene program.

In July 2023, the School of Dentistry launched Laredo’s first Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene program at the UT Education and Research Center at Laredo (UT Center at Laredo).

With a new co-director, Laredo-based faculty and four students in the inaugural class, the two year hybrid program comes at a crucial time when South Texas is expected to experience a worsening dental hygienist shortage through 2030, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The good news is that dental hygienist jobs are projected to grow by 7% from 2022 to 2032, faster than the average for all occupations, according to the Bureau for Labor Statistics.

“Knowing that there is a shortage of dental providers in South Texas, in the Mexico-Texas border region, this program is so important because we are actually going to make a difference to fill in that gap,” de la Torre said. “Having dental hygienists who can be trained in their hometown means they can now be with their families, they don’t have to move, they don’t have to pay for lodging somewhere else. Now there’s professional growth for them in the future.”


To foster cohesion, the Laredo-based dental hygiene students started the program on July 3 alongside their 23 counterparts in San Antonio.

“They were [at UT Health Science Center San Antonio] for several weeks because we wanted to make sure that these students feel that they are a part of the class,” de la Torre said. “This gave the opportunity for them to bond and the students to work together and know each other, not just as students in Laredo and students in San Antonio. We’re one.”

Upon their return to Laredo, the students stayed connected to their San Antonio-based cohort and faculty thanks to a new dental hygiene facility with state-of-the-art communications equipment enabling them to participate in live classes virtually.

The new facility also includes a radiology area where students learn to take radiographs on manikins and a lab where students learn about dental materials and anatomy from the dental hygiene faculty in Laredo. Another area of the facility houses a simulation lab, where students can practice hands-on procedures.

The program also enables students to work in a clinical setting to provide low-cost dental hygiene care at the UT Dentistry Laredo Dental Clinic, a partnership between the School of Dentistry and the Laredo Health Department.


Magda de la Torre speaking at the Laredo program's ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Dental Hygiene Interim Director and 1989 alumna Magda de la Torre, MPH, RDH, was a featured speaker at the Laredo program’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The health science center’s dental hygiene program has grown significantly since its inception as a certificate program in 1976. In 1996, the program began offering bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. The bachelor’s degree program ultimately replaced the certificate program, with the last certificates awarded in 2009. By then, 935 certificates had been conferred.

In 2008, the bachelor’s program was split into two tracks. One is an entry-level track for students to prepare for licensure and entry into the profession. The other is a degree-completion track for students who are licensed dental hygienists who graduated from a dental hygiene program in the U.S. or Canada accredited by the American Dental Association and the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

The Laredo-based program is an entry-level track program.

As of August 2023, the dental hygiene program at UT Health Science Center San Antonio had conferred 622 bachelor’s degrees and 42 master’s degrees.


As the dental hygiene program in Laredo matures, de la Torre anticipates accepting eight students for the program in 2024 — double the number of students from its inaugural year. The next cohort will start July 2024.

“Eventually, we’ll have a total of 16 students, eight seniors and eight juniors at Laredo,” said de la Torre.

She also envisions a future in which the Laredo-based program provides medical and oral health care at colonias — housing developments along the Texas-Mexico border region that often lack basic services such as drinking water, sewage treatment and paved roads.

“We’re here to be part of this community, and we’re here to make an impact on not just students and their education, but [also] the community itself and oral health of the people in this area,” she said.

For more information about the dental hygiene program at the UT Center at Laredo, visit this website. For questions regarding program admissions, email dhadmissions@uthscsa.edu or call 210-567-3810.

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In the 2023 issue of Salute

Salute is the official magazine for the alumni and friends of the School of Dentistry at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Read and share inspiring stories highlighting our dental alumni, faculty and students who are revolutionizing education, research, patient care and critical services in the communities they serve.

View the 2023 issue

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