Texas Tech University Health Science Center (TTUHSC) El Paso has received approval to plan West Texas’ first dental school. Richard C. Black, D.D.S., M.S. will serve as Dean of the Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine. Dr. Black is a native El Pasoan and a prominent community leader, and active in many organizations across the city.
For decades, West Texas and the Upper Rio Grande have experienced a severe shortage of dentists. El Paso County, the region’s largest metropolis, has a 70% shortage of dentists compared to the per capita national average.
Adding to that strain is an aging population of dentists in the state. More than one-third of Texas’ dentists are at or approaching retirement age (more than 55 years), according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
But this troubling trend will change course in the near future, with the approval of the Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine.
The school, expected to welcome its first class of dental students in 2021, takes its name from El Paso businessman Woody L. Hunt. In 2016, the Woody and Gayle Hunt Family Foundation presented TTUHSC El Paso with a $25 million gift to help make the school a reality. The Paso del Norte Health Foundation has also shown its support with a $6 million grant to TTUHSC El Paso to develop a unique, community-service-based curriculum for the school.
Seventy percent of graduates from dental schools in Texas establish practices in the same region where they attended school. Of all 50 states, Texas ranks among the top five for employment in the field of dentistry, except for West Texas.
Recent studies have shown a primary economic impact of $60 to $109 million annually for dental schools.
Increasing Access to Dental Care
When the Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine opens its doors, it will be the first-ever dental school in West Texas, and the newest in Texas in almost 50 years. Currently, there are only three dental schools in Texas, located in the eastern and southern parts of the vast state.
El Paso and other West Texas residents interested in dentistry will no longer have to leave the region to pursue their careers. Because graduates typically establish practices in the same region where they attend school, the number of dentists serving West Texas residents is expected to increase significantly in the future. At full capacity, the school will graduate 60 dentists per year.