EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The dean of the Hunt School of Dental Medicine is getting some national recognition for his efforts to bring more dental care to the border region.

Dr. Richard Black, D.D.S., M.S., has been named a DentaQuest Health Equity Hero for 2023. He has been dean of the new Hunt School of Dental Medicine since 2020. The dental school is part of the growing Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso campus.

The award “shines a spotlight on a career of championing equitable access to health care,” according to a news release sent out by Texas Tech.

Black had run a successful orthodontics practice for 40 years in El Paso before becoming dean of the dental school.

“El Pasoans long sought a solution to affordable dental care access. El Paso County had three times fewer dentists than the rest of the U.S., with only one dentist for every 4,840 residents, compared to the national average of one for every 1,638 individuals,” according to the news release.

“Dr. Black’s vision for public health and innovative education set a new standard for dental education across North America. His vision contributed to the early success of the Hunt School of Dental Medicine, which was the first dental school established in Texas in 50 years. A leader in bilingual health care education, the school is the only one that requires students to be conversant and take courses in medical Spanish and to treat patients in the dental clinic during their first semester,” the release added.

Black has led the effort in establishing the Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic, which provides oral health care for underserved border communities while serving as a hands-on teaching platform for students.

Since opening, the clinic has provided “reduced-cost oral health care to over 3,500 patients,” according to the release.

Part of Sun Life U.S., the DentaQuest Health Equity Heroes program “strives to break down barriers and drive transformative change in the health care landscape, working toward a vision where every person can attain optimal overall health. Now in its ninth year, the program honors individuals and organizations responsible for extraordinary work that advances equitable access to health care, encompassing medical, oral health and behavioral health. With approximately 74 million Americans lacking dental coverage, and health disparities affecting numerous underserved communities, DentaQuest’s mission is not just timely but essential,” according to the release.

“We take delight in honoring Dr. Black for his lifetime commitment to oral health and his work to get this unique dental school off the ground,” said Aaron Washburn, head of client engagement for DentaQuest. “At DentaQuest, our mission is to improve oral health care for one and all. We want everyone across the nation to know the Hunt School of Dental Medicine was founded with a similar mission. This school has a profound impact not just here in El Paso but also across West Texas.”

As part of the DentaQuest award, Dr. Black received a $5,000 gift, which he donated to the Dental Dean’s Excellence Fund of the Hunt School of Dental Medicine. The funds will go toward training homegrown talent who upon graduation will reduce the shortage of dentists in the region and ensuring sustained quality care to local communities, according to the release.

“This award is an important milestone,” Black said. “However, it’s only the part of our continued journey toward ensuring dental care access for all.”

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.

“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 over 18,000 hours of clinical care to our Borderplex residents,” according to TTUHSC El Paso.