Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) student member Tanya Sue Maestas has known that she wanted to be a dentist since she was in fifth grade.
“I conducted an experiment exploring what drink stains teeth the most,” she explains. “During the experiment, I had the chance to speak with many dentists in my community, and I saw how compassionate and helpful they were to me and to their patients. I hope to emulate this same compassion within my own community once I become a dentist.”
Maestas, an El Paso, Texas, native and current president of the American Student Dental Association (ASDA), is already passionate about serving her community through dentistry, specifically underserved communities. “Dentistry is a giving profession,” she says, “and I want to use my talents and my degree to reach out to those who are in the most need of dental care.”
The fourth-year dental student, who attends the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, is a current National Health Service Corps Scholar. The program provides scholarships to students pursuing primary care health professions training in exchange of their services in a Health Professional Shortage Area. “I have the unique opportunity to give back to underserved communities upon graduation, which has been a goal of mine from the beginning,” Maestas says. “Long-term, I hope to stay in Texas with the opportunity of potentially returning to my hometown, El Paso.”
In addition to staying involved in her community, Maestas says she plans to continue her involvement in organized dentistry through her memberships in AGD and her local component, as well as the American Dental Association.
“It’s important to stay involved in organized dentistry, as it helps impact and shape the future of the profession,” she says. “I have been an AGD member since my first year of dental school, and I joined because I wanted to grow in my knowledge of general dentistry beyond the classroom. Many of my mentors at the time encouraged me to pursue many avenues within organized dentistry, and AGD was one of these. The organization has given me the opportunity to learn more about the profession; I have even participated in the AGD Fellowtrack program in Houston, where I’ve learned about the many experiences of dental professionals from around the area. AGD also has given me the opportunity to gain CE credits as a dental student, has kept me informed about innovations in dentistry and has helped me work toward becoming a Fellow.”
Maestas says that as a student, one of the biggest challenges she sees for new dental professionals entering the field — student debt — is not a new one.
She says, “The average debt of a graduating dental student is about $261,000, and this is merely the average. I have many colleagues who have graduated with a substantially larger amount. It is important to find outlets to reduce student loan interest and increase access to public service loan forgiveness programs. I also believe that more state funding for dental schools should be a legislative priority.”
With dental students and new dentists facing so many different challenges, one thing that seasoned dentists can do to help the new generation of dentists, Maestas says, is to continue to reach out and mentor them. “I have had many influences and mentors who have helped shape my life and my career. What better people to learn from than those who are already out in the field?” she says. “With their support, we can continue to foster a strong profession with great leaders.”
Personally, Maestas’ biggest influences have been her parents. “They have shown me that with hard work, all things are possible. There has never been an idea that I have had — big or small — that they haven’t supported. Without their continual love and guidance, I would not be who and where I am today.”
Maestas graduates dental school in 2018, yet she is already looking forward to her future as a dentist, as well as the future of dentistry. “Throughout my time in dental school, I have met many dental professionals who were passionate about organized dentistry and the future of the profession, and their passion has been passed on to current dental students. I am excited to see how our profession will grow with new technologies and under the leadership of those seeking to continue making dentistry an excellent profession.”
One day soon, she hopes to do the same. “I want to impact dentistry by being a leader within the profession. I have been blessed to have many opportunities present themselves during dental school that have allowed me to grow as a leader and in my knowledge of the profession. Through these unique experiences, I have been fueled to continue to stay involved beyond dental school.”