Bulletin of Dental Education

Bringing Smiles and Dental Care to South Dallas

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Less than two years into its mission of increasing access to dental care around south Dallas, the Texas A&M School of Dentistry Dr. M.C. Cooper Dental Clinic has played a vital role in bringing smiles and comprehensive dental care to those who might otherwise not see a dentist.

Located three miles from the dental school’s main campus, the 4,300-square-foot standalone facility celebrated its grand opening in April 2021 thanks to the generosity of donors. 

“As the largest single provider of oral health care in north Texas, we take the responsibility of being a good neighbor to heart,” says Lily T. Garcia, D.D.S., M.S., FACP, the school’s dean. “Our students learn to close the oral health care gap that exists for far too many of our community members. The Cooper Dental Clinic is providing us with that opportunity.” 

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Cooper Dental Clinic Staff Dentist Renicke Moss, D.D.S., observes as a dental student interacts with a patient.

The clinic is named for Dr. Marcellus Clayton Cooper, the first Black dentist in Texas. Born into slavery in 1862, Dr. Cooper went on to attend grade school in Little Egypt, a freedman’s town in northeast Dallas. He completed high school in Springfield, MO, then returned to Dallas and began working at a department store, where he saved enough money for dental school and enrolled at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN. 

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Dr. M.C. Cooper, the first Black dentist in Texas.

Dr. Cooper opened his practice in Dallas in 1896, not far from the location of today’s Cooper Dental Clinic. Dr. Cooper was a vital member of the community throughout his 30-year career. 

Like its namesake, the Cooper Dental Clinic has aimed to be an important part of its community by offering free dental care to low-income and uninsured patients.

“Our dental, dental hygiene and graduate students enjoy providing oral healthcare under the supervision of faculty at this location,” says Tracy King, Director of Clinical Operations for Texas A&M School of Dentistry community clinics. “The Cooper Dental Clinic provides students with an experience similar to private practice while giving them the opportunity to better understand health disparities of individuals in our community. We provide comprehensive and emergency care services. Our goal is for our patients to get all their dental health needs met at one location.”

The clinic, which hosts its own in-house lab and dental milling machine, recently launched a prosthodontics program. It is overseen by Jared Durham, D.D.S., Clinical Assistant Professor in Public Health Sciences.

“When the program started, there was a wait list of about 40 to 50 people in need of dentures,” Dr. Durham says. “We see senior patients and any patient with an unmet need within our scope of services. It’s like a night-and-day experience for them, losing their smile and getting it back. Chewing capacity, they get it back. It helps them with job interviews, and socially with family and friends. It brings the quality of life back up to where it should be.”

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During their 2022 spring break, then fourth-year students Alan Hwang, Akeira “Cookie” Warner and Carlos Ruiz volunteered their time to see patients at the Texas A&M School of Dentistry Dr. M.C. Cooper Dental Clinic.

Owned and operated by Texas A&M School of Dentistry, the building itself is also a testament to people coming together to help improve the lives of many. Funding for construction came from an anonymous $2.4 million donation, and a $2 million endowment helps pay for operating expenses. Delta Dental Foundation provided equipment for the clinic through a $780,000 donation. The clinic also has received Congressional support for additional funding. 

The project was championed by Frazier Revitalization, a nonprofit dedicated to the improvement of Dallas’ Frazier neighborhood, which is home to the Cooper Dental Clinic.

“The Frazier neighborhood, even though it’s less than three miles from downtown Dallas, is one of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in the city,” says Dorothy Hopkins, President and CEO of Frazier Revitalization. “The clinic definitely has helped people in this neighborhood. Residents we’ve spoken to have expressed their joy and delight in having an affordable dental clinic right in their neighborhood.”

Courtesy of Caleb Vierkant, Communications Coordinator, Office of Marketing and Communications, Texas A&M School of Dentistry

Published on November 9, 2022

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