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Neighborhood Smiles Day

120 elementary school children receive free dental exams from Hunt School of Dental Medicine students at the Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic

El Pasoans had two big reasons to celebrate Neighborhood Smiles Day on Friday, Nov. 17.

First, Marathon Petroleum announced a generous $50,000 gift, continuing its support of the Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic, the clinical practice of the Hunt School of Dental Medicine.

Second, 120 elementary school children received free dental exams as part of the special day.

As part of efforts to improve the accessibility of oral health care in the community, Hunt School of Dental Medicine faculty and students work together in the clinic to deliver reduced-cost, high-quality oral health care to Borderplex residents.

Marathon Petroleum’s gift will go toward the clinic’s Dental Patient Fund and will assist underserved and uninsured patients with the cost of dental services. The Dental Patient Fund specifically helps Borderplex residents, especially families in the 79905 and 79901 ZIP codes near the clinic, who might not otherwise have resources for quality dental care. With this additional gift, the clinic will also be able to serve patients from the 79915 ZIP code at a reduced cost.

Access to the clinic’s services will allow residents to address oral health early and receive treatment before conditions worsen and become costlier. Marathon Petroleum’s contributions to the Dental Patient Fund made it possible for 1,001 patients to be seen at the Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic.

“Marathon Petroleum recognizes the profound impact of oral health care on children's well-being,” said V.J. Smith, senior MPC stakeholder engagement representative. “By removing the roadblock of access, we aim to enable every child, irrespective of their family's socioeconomic situation, to prioritize and receive essential oral health care.”

Neighborhood Smiles Day served 120 students, with 40 participants each from three El Paso Independent School District schools: Zavala Elementary, Tinajero Elementary and Cooley Elementary. The students were selected from the third, fourth and fifth grades.

Elementary students were seated in the examination chair while dental students engaged in conversation with them to help them feel more comfortable. The topics of conversation varied, covering Thanksgiving favorite sides, children's Christmas wishes, and discussions about shoes. Even the initially shy children gradually began to open up during their interactions.

In addition to dental exams, the dental students talked to the children about good oral health, healthy food choices, proper brushing techniques and more. The Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic’s mascot, Teeth Rex, was ever present in shirts and stickers for the children.

Marco Torres, a fourth-grade student at Tinajero Elementary attended Neighborhood Smiles Day for the second time Friday. He takes to heart the lessons he’s learned from his dental visits to always brush your teeth twice a day and brush them for at least two minutes. He also may have found his calling.

“I want to be a dentist when I grow up so I can make people smile, make them happy and clean their teeth so they can smile every day,” Marco, 10, said.

Dental and oral health issues are the primary reason children are absent from school. Approximately 8.6 million children between the ages of 6 and 12 miss school due to dental and oral health issues, according to the National Children’s Oral Health Survey.

Helping to improve dental and oral health care access is a team effort that involves several organizations and people, including the Paso Del Norte Health Foundation. Each year, the Paso Del Norte Health Foundation collaborates with TTUHSC El Paso to organize two community engagement events annually, such as Neighborhood Smiles Day.

The Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic is situated within the Paso Del Norte Health Foundation Building on the TTUHSC El Paso campus. A significant contribution from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation came in the form of an $11 million grant, facilitating the establishment of the Hunt School of Dental Medicine and the Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic at TTUHSC El Paso. Out of this grant, $5 million has been allocated to support dental school operations, positioning the school as a frontrunner in providing oral health care in the Borderplex region.

Marathon Petroleum has been a key community partner, as well, helping the dental school and clinic expand their ability to provide services. The company has supported important public health education opportunities for Hunt School of Dental Medicine students, in addition to ensuring residents of our Borderplex region have access to high-quality dental care.

Marathon Petroleum’s gift of $30,000 in summer 2021 established the Dental Patient Fund, which has helped improve the lives of patients residing in the 79905 ZIP code, home to its El Paso refinery and the TTUHSC El Paso campus. The company followed up in 2022 with a $50,000 gift to the Dental Patient Fund.

“One of the things we're training our students about is that if you can make the experience of a child coming to the dentist a positive one, many times for the first time, it works for a lifetime,” said Richard Black, D.D.S., M.S., founding dean of the Hunt School of Dental Medicine.

As part of efforts to improve the accessibility of oral health care in our community, the Hunt School of Dental Medicine offers reduced-cost dental care in its 38,000-square-foot public dental clinic. The clinic comes equipped with 145 treatment chairs where students work with licensed faculty to deliver high-quality oral health care to Borderplex residents. The clinic offers students hands-on training and an introduction to early clinical experiences among a diverse population, a rare opportunity among dental schools.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has designated El Paso as a Dental Health Professional Shortage Area. El Paso has only one dentist for every 4,840 residents, compared to the state average of one dentist for every 2,900 residents. More than 50 West Texas counties have no dentist at all. Because most graduating dentists establish their practices in proximity to their dental schools, the Hunt School of Dental Medicine will help alleviate the severe shortage of dentists in our Borderplex and other communities along the Texas-Mexico border.

Young children are vulnerable to poor oral health since they are in the process of losing baby teeth and growing permanent adult teeth. Unfortunately, many Texas children as young as 3 experience poor oral health due to a lack of access to dental providers. As a result, 43% of Texas children ages 3-5 have experienced tooth decay compared to 28% nationally.

"We are excited to collaborate with Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso in providing dental care to our students," El Paso ISD Superintendent Diana Sayavedra said. "This partnership not only ensures the oral health of our students but also introduces them to the exciting world of dentistry. We believe that this experience will inspire and empower our students to explore careers in the dental field."

During their visit, students received a report card on their dental health, providing them with valuable information about their oral hygiene. They also will have the opportunity to return for another check-up or consult their own dentist for further care.

By partnering with TTUHSC El Paso, EPISD is taking proactive steps to ensure that its students receive the necessary dental care and are educated about maintaining good oral hygiene.


About Marathon Petroleum

Marathon Petroleum focuses its investments on core areas where it can make a positive, measurable impact, including STEM education and initiatives that increase access to high-quality educational training and career readiness resources. More information is available at



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 TTUHSC 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 or or visit


Original Article: TECH TALK - NOV 17, 2023


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