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Margo Y. Melchor
• President, Hispanic Dental Association
• Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston
• Director of Community Outreach at the University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston
Margo Melchor, RDH, MEd, knew she wanted to become involved in dentistry from the age of 5, when she first had her teeth cleaned at the UT Houston Dental Branch—now the University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston. But her first real steps into the profession were taken as a high school student. “Through The Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA), I found a position with an oral surgeon as an assistant,” she says.
After beginning college, she found employment as a dental assistant with a female dentist, who was supportive of her professional growth, and had just entered private practice. The 6-year working relationship that became a friendship that continues to this day. “We grew together in the profession, she working with an assistant, and I working with a dentist,” Melchor recalls.
Her relationship with the Hispanic Dental Association (HDA), of which she is now president, began as a clinical assistant professor at the University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston. “I was asked to be a faculty advisor for the Hispanic Student Dental Association at UTSD in an effort to bring students together to work on community outreach activities in the Hispanic community,” she explains. The experience, she maintains, has been a fulfilling one. “I love being a faculty advisor here with our student association and having an impact on students through their educational and community service learning experience.”
Melchor is now president of the 20-year-old HDA, which aims to be the leading voice of Hispanic oral health professionals in the fight to eliminate oral health disparities. “Our goal is to do this by providing Service, Education, Advocacy, and Leadership—SEAL—emphasizing an all-inclusive team approach to oral healthcare,” she says. The organization is focused on empowering the entire dental team and considers dental assistants and hygienists as valued, integral members of the dental team. “Our organization recognizes that dental assistants are essential players in efforts to improve the oral health of the Hispanic community. Among our members are dental assistants and hygienists in areas such as public health, academia, research, and private practice.”
She states that the national organization has professional chapters in nine US cities, plus 41 student chapters. “There are many opportunities to grow professionally while meeting colleagues from around the country. There is also the chance to learn about differences in their practices which vary from state to state with expanded duties for dental assistants and registered dental hygienists,” she says.
Discussing her goals as president of the HDA, Melchor says, “I’m focused on promoting our profession and to collaborate with other organizations, such as the American Dental Assistants Association.”
Melchor looks forward to gathering with her colleagues at the HDA annual meeting for both personal and professional reasons. “We hope that people appreciate the quality of the courses and presentations and see that we are trying to accommodate the whole dental team. We want all of the members to have a sense of the team concept and that we offer something for everyone,” she says. She also emphasizes the desire of the HDA to promote “a little bit of Spanish culture” while reaching out to more general dentists and specialists while providing relevant presentations. “HDA is a national organization, but I don’t feel that it’s just a professional organization; we’re also a familia.”
Visit the HDA website at www.hdassoc.org.
PAOLA N. ROMERA, RDA
Greater San Antonio Hispanic Dental Association Secretary Paola Romero’s dental career path has thus far been a circuitous one. Because the cost of a dental education and personal life circumstances dissuaded her from undertaking an 8-year dental program, she opted for a degree in business marketing. However, after working in that field, she circled back to her original interest in dentistry. “I felt that I had cut myself short, so I decided to pursue what I really always wanted,” she says.
With that in mind, her 5-year plan now includes obtaining a dental degree. In the meantime, she has managed to combine her background in business with dental assisting in a dental practice with seven offices in San Antonio.
Romero says her association with HDA is an outgrowth of her desire to give back to the Hispanic people through outreach efforts that include mission trips to other countries as well as her own community. “It’s not just that I want to practice dentistry; I want to provide dental care to the underserved in my Hispanic community,” she says.
BELEN LOPEZ, RDA
Belen Lopez had never considered any aspect of the dental field as a career until completing a 2-week internship for dental assisting less than 3 years ago. She is now working toward an Expanded Function Dental Assistant (EFDA) license in Washington state and enjoys a diverse position with a pediatric specialist.
Lopez says a mission trip as a dental assistant in the Dominican Republic taught her “how spoiled we are in the United States.” There, she learned firsthand that the dental field, as well as the culture there, is different. “During the mission trip, a provider trained me in some very simple restorative micro-occlusals. I had the chance to assist in a variety of situations, including working outside and sometimes improvising.”
Lopez particularly enjoys participating in community events such as Cosechando Sonrisas—Harvesting Smiles—an event during the harvest season where HDA members offer free dental care. “Being a member of the HDA really gives you the opportunity to educate the community about treatment options and at-home preventative care; it’s a really great feeling to know that you’re doing this much for the community,” she says.