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Hunt School of Dental Medicine Working With Local Dentists for Early Diabetes Detection, Thanks to a Grant Partnership

Paso del Norte Health Foundation grant will expand school’s Diabetes and the Dentist program to train Borderplex dentists to screen for the disease.


For El Paso residents, the next visit to the dentist may involve a conversation about more than regular brushing and flossing.


To enhance community health along the U.S.-Mexico border, some dentists in our Borderplex will offer diabetes screenings, thanks to the Diabetes and the Community Dentist program conducted by the Hunt School of Dental Medicine at Texas Tech Health El Paso.


The program received a $166,990 grant from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation this Spring to expand the screening program beyond the dental school to private dentistry practices in our community.


Diabetes and the Community Dentist, led by associate professor Wilma Luquis-Aponte, D.M.D., Ph.D., and assistant professor Salma Elwazeer, B.D.S., M.D.S., M.P.H., is designed to prevent diabetes through early detection, education and resource referrals.

Due to the higher frequency of visits to dentists' offices compared to physicians' offices, their offices are considered ideal hubs for offering voluntary diabetes risk screenings. Patients will be asked to complete a straightforward questionnaire that will help identify their risk level. Those who are determined to be at risk will be offered free finger-prick blood screenings using devices provided by the grant. This will allow for early detection and treatment of diabetes, thus ensuring better health outcomes for the patients.


“We want to identify patients who are at risk of developing diabetes and connect them with

resources that can help them manage their condition,” said Dr. Elwazeer, director of

Interprofessional Education at the Hunt School of Dental Medicine. “The initiative aligns with

the broader goal of integrating diabetes testing into routine screenings across dental clinics in our community.”



Paul Ro, D.D.S., M.S., is a dentist with 24 years of experience. In addition to running his dental clinic, he is also a part-time clinical faculty member at the Hunt School of Dental Medicine, where he instructs dental students on the finer points of practice.


“Given many of our patients are predisposed to diabetes or diabetic, it’s important this

program is expanded throughout our Borderplex community,” said Dr. Ro. “I think it's great the Hunt School of Dental Medicine is taking the initiative to expand access to diabetes screenings.”


Dr. Ro emphasized dentists will not be diagnosing diabetes through the screening program – it’s designed to identify patients who may be at risk for the disease.


“We’re just telling patients they’re at risk and encouraging them to take steps to make sure to discuss the results with their primary care physician,” said Dr. Ro.


El Paso County is facing a serious diabetes crisis, with 13.9% of adults affected by the disease. This percentage is higher than both Texas and national averages. Around 94,000 El Pasoans have been diagnosed with the disease, which places a significant burden on health care and communities. Diabetes is also the fourth leading cause of death in adults over 75. In El Paso County, 32.2% of deaths are related to diabetes, which is higher than the national average of 21.2%. These statistics underline the urgent need for prevention, management, and allocation of resources to address this important public health issue.


The Hunt School of Dental Medicine also trains its students to screen for diabetes, thanks to a February 2023 grant from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, a trusted partner of the Hunt School of Dental Medicine and the university. Additionally, the school is expanding oral health accessibility in our community by offering reduced-cost dental care at the Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic in the Paso del Norte Health Foundation Building on the Texas Tech Health El Paso campus.


 

About the Hunt School of Dental Medicine


The Hunt School of Dental Medicine opened in 2021 and is the only dental school on the U.S.- Mexico border, and the first in Texas to open in more than 50 years. The school offers the most innovative curriculum in the country, preparing students for the future of dentistry with high-tech simulation and an advanced fabrication laboratory. A first for any dental school in the nation, students begin clinical training and patient interaction during their first semester. It’s also the first and only dental school in the nation that requires Spanish language courses.


As upward of 75% of dental school graduates open practices near their dental schools, Hunt

School of Dental Medicine graduates are expected to address the oral health care needs along the U.S.-Mexico border for generations to come. Since the opening of the Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic in 2021, students and faculty have treated more than 3,500 patients, providing nearly 19,000 hours of clinical care to our Borderplex residents.


 

YOU CAN HELP

Help transform health care in our community and beyond by making a gift to Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso. CLICK HERE to learn how to give.

At Texas Tech Health El Paso, we are committed to growing our own health care heroes and

changing the state of health care in our Borderplex. For more information about how you can help, please contact andrea.tawney@ttuhsc.edu or craig.holden@ttuhsc.edu or visit ttuhscep.edu/elpaso/ia/giving/.


 

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