Newswise — EL PASO, Texas — Mastery of the dentist’s drill comes from steadfast effort and top-notch guidance. Drills, with their distinctive high-pitched buzz, make some patients uneasy in the dental chair. However, when wielded skillfully by experienced dentists, science and art merge, allowing patients to feel more at ease.

Like a musician’s journey to Carnegie Hall, dental students can only master their skills with a patient through practice, practice and practice. And that’s where Terese Andino, D.D.S., M.B.A., comes in.

Dr. Andino believes dental students should begin hands-on training in their first year of studies. This differs from the traditional approach in most schools, where students often don't see patients until their third year. The Hunt School of Dental Medicine stands out as the only dental school in North America that offers clinical experience in the first semester of study.

Dr. Andino joined the Hunt School of Dental Medicine last August to ensure every graduate gets as much hands-on experience as possible. She sees her duty as one to make sure the school’s graduates instill confidence in every patient by representing the pinnacle of professionalism, which fosters a relaxed dental chair experience.

This mastery can only be achieved by hours of hands-on learning. And more hands-on training means more oral health access for the community.

A veteran educator

Dr. Andino understands duty. Not only does she possess over 30 years of general dentistry experience, but she also served as an officer in both the Navy and the Army. She did her mandatory "ship tour" with the Marines at MCAS Yuma in the middle of the Sonoran Desert.

“When you're with the Marines, you are a Marine,” recalled Dr. Andino. “You take their physical training, learn all their history, wear their uniforms – everything. They taught me how to roll up my sleeves. Sleeves in the Marines are rolled differently than the way others may do it.”

It's this attention to detail through practice that informs Dr. Andino's teaching philosophy. As an assistant professor and assistant director of general dentistry, Dr. Andino endorses early hands-on patient care by all dental students, even those in their first year. It's a bold move that's not only reshaping how future dentists are trained but also significantly boosting access to affordable dental care in the community.

Practice makes perfect

This attention to practice is in sharp contrast to traditional dental education training prevalent in the U.S. today. A recent survey of dental school graduates indicated approximately 75% of them felt only moderately prepared for working with patients. This is backed up by studies that found students who see patients early in their education demonstrate higher confidence and competence in clinical procedures upon graduation. Upward of 85% these graduates believed early clinical exposure significantly enhances a student's readiness for real-world dental practice.

Dr. Andino is more than prepared to bridge this readiness gap. The Wisconsin native graduated from Marquette University School of Dentistry in Milwaukee. Following graduation, she served as a dentist and officer in both the Navy and Army, followed by private practice in Monahans, Texas, just down Interstate 20 from Odessa. Her academic journey also led her to Texas Tech University, where she received her M.B.A. in 2005. She later joined the Veterans Affairs after her sons graduated from high school.

A win-win for the community

Dr. Andino promotes first-year encounters, as they not only sharpen skills, but they also encourage students to solve problems together. By the time her students reach their third year, they’ll have experienced more clinic hours with patients than their peers at other universities.

The impact of early training extends far beyond the confines of the university. As Dr. Andino's students accumulate more clinic hours by their third year, our community benefits through increased access to low-cost dental care. The Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic, where these students gain practical experience, is a crucial provider of affordable dental services, addressing a significant need in our community.

“Patients are returning because of our low cost and our location,” Dr. Andino stated. "We are perfectly situated between El Paso, Mexico, and New Mexico. I see that as a positive."

Dr. Andino is laser-focused on ensuring both student and patient have a positive experience in the dental clinic. The more her students practice, the more patients the clinic can help. The result produces not only highly qualified dentists but also provides improved oral health care access for our Borderplex residents.

"I'm having a blast,” she added. “I go home dog-tired, but I love what I do here.”

About the Hunt School of Dental Medicine

The Hunt School of Dental Medicine opened in 2021. It is the only dental school on the U.S.-Mexico border and the first in Texas to open in more than 50 years. The dental 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.

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 many years to come.

About Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso

Texas Tech Health El Paso is the only health sciences center on the U.S.-Mexico border and serves 108 counties in West Texas that have been historically underserved. It’s a designated Title V Hispanic-Serving Institution, preparing the next generation of health care heroes, 48% of whom identify as Hispanic and are often first-generation students.

Established as an independent university in 2013, Texas Tech Health El Paso is a proudly diverse and uniquely innovative destination for education and research.

With a mission of eliminating health care barriers and creating life-changing educational opportunities for Borderplex residents, Texas Tech Health El Paso has graduated over 2,400 doctors, nurses and researchers over the past decade, and will add dentists to its alumni beginning in 2025. For more information, visit