UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry community clinics target dental disease in Hispanic children


Local effort helps highlight National Children's Dental Health Month

Contact: Steven Lee, 210-450-3823, lees22@uthscsa.edu
Content contributed by Christine Zapata

San Antonio and Laredo, Texas, February 8, 2023 – Two satellite community clinics at UT Health San Antonio’s College of Dentistry are providing critical low-cost care, specifically addressing the high rates of dental disease among Hispanic children.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Hispanic children ages 2 to 19 have the highest prevalence of tooth decay at 57 percent, compared with 40 percent for non-Hispanic white children. Lack of nutrition and access to care leaves minority children and those living in lower socioeconomic conditions most at risk for tooth decay and serious infections.

Ricardo Salinas Children's Dentistry in San Antonio and Laredo Health Department Dental Clinic provide patients with high-quality, expert care at a manageable cost. Each clinic employs a bilingual staff, accepts Medicaid patients, provides pediatric services on a sliding fee scale based on annual income for uninsured patients, and is managed by board-certified pediatric dental faculty.

February is the American Dental Association’s National Children’s Dental Health Month, and two community clinics at the UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry are part of an effort by thousands of professionals, health care providers and educators across the country to promote the benefits of good oral health example.

It is estimated that children are much more likely to miss school due to dental-related problems than any other medical condition—a concern that is even more acute in South Texas.

Maria Jose Cervantes Mendez, DDS, MS

“Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease in the United States,” said Dr. Maria Jose Cervantes Mendez, director of the Advanced Education Program in Pediatric Dentistry at UT Health San Antonio. “In our community, one in five children is likely to have tooth decay by the time they start kindergarten, rising to half by the time they finish primary school.”

Cervantes Mendez's program is in partnership with the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District's Ricardo Salinas Children's Dental Clinic, located at 630 S. General McMullen on San Antonio's west side. The Laredo Health Department Dental Clinic, located at 2600 Cedar Avenue in Laredo, is a partnership between UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry and the Laredo Health Department, serving both pediatric and adult patients.

Preventative treatments provided by the clinic can avoid emergency dental care, which can avoid billions of dollars in costs each year. Micaela Gibbs, DDS, MHA, chief dental officer at UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry, said not only does this cost families money, it also impacts the physical and mental health of their children.

Children's tooth decay can have serious long-term effects on their overall health and quality of life,” she said. “The inability to eat can lead to malnutrition and stunted growth, while the pain caused by dental disease can impair a child’s ability to sleep and learn. The stigma of poor oral health can affect self-esteem and social interaction. All of this adds up to long-term consequences that last into adulthood .

break it down

Tooth decay is an infectious disease caused by bacteria that produce acid when they eat sugar in the mouth. The acid breaks down the outer enamel layer of the tooth, allowing bacteria to enter and multiply. As cavities grow and bacteria continue to produce acid, the tooth is damaged, often leading to infection, pain, and swelling.

When this process occurs in deciduous or “baby” teeth, it can lead to tooth loss, resulting in severe crowding, difficulty chewing, and even damage to the permanent teeth that have not yet erupted.

While many families know what a healthy and balanced diet consists of, rising costs combined with a lack of readily available nutritious foods have forced people to consume a diet rich in carbohydrates such as rice, potatoes, beans and bread. When carbohydrate particles get stuck between teeth after eating and drinking, they turn into sugar, which is the preferred food source for bacteria in the mouth.

Many families face significant barriers when trying to receive dental care. The high cost of dental treatment, lack of insurance coverage, insufficient number of Medicaid providers, language barriers, and geographic challenges all create barriers for well-intentioned patients. For many cultures, a lack of dental experience or understanding of its importance can also lead to hesitancy in seeking treatment.

it's never too late

We recommend that children visit the dentist when they are one year old so that we can prevent dental disease from occurring,” Cervantes Mendez said.

However, she said it's never too late to make an appointment with the dentist, and it's inexpensive. The exam will include an evaluation of each tooth, oral tissues, and surrounding features of the head and neck, preventive cleanings, and fluoridation treatments.

“We are very proud of the exceptional care provided at our two community clinics,” Gibbs said. “Patients will never experience lower quality care because the cost of services is reduced.”

Many community partners and corporate sponsors would agree. The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, Children's Hospice of San Antonio and the Texas Cavaliers have been long-time supporters of the Ricardo Salinas Clinic, keeping patient costs low.

Last year, Delta Dental's Community Care Foundation awarded $50,000 to support patient care at both clinics. Laredo dental clinics are also available only in partnership with the City of Laredo Health Department.

“You can make a reservation,” Cervantes Mendes said. “Dental problems should be the least of our children’s concerns while they’re at school, and we can help make sure that’s the case.”

Families can make an appointment with the Ricardo Salinas Children's Dentistry Clinic by calling (210) 450-8700 or the Laredo Health Department Dental Clinic by calling (956) 523-7500. Clinic locations and maps can be found on the UT Dentistry website.


University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UT Health San Antonio) is one of the nation's leading health sciences universities and is designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education. With a mission of teaching, research, patient care and community engagement, its schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have produced more than 41,100 alumni who are leading change and advancing their fields. , and rekindle hope for patients and their families. To learn about the many ways we make life better®, visit UTHealthSA.org.

UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry offers 17 dental and oral hygiene degrees and programs, world-renowned teacher educators, a diverse student body, state-of-the-art clinical facilities and an outstanding research enterprise. Departments include general dentistry, developmental dentistry, endodontics, periodontics and oral and maxillofacial surgery. Scientists collaborate with clinicians and research teams around the world to find new treatments and advance knowledge in oral health, biomaterials, cancer, pain and more, across multiple medical and dental disciplines. To learn more, visit https://www.uthscsa.edu/academics/dental.

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