It was a struggle growing up in Albuquerque’s Southeast Heights for Leslie Miramontes and her mother.

“We lived in shelters, had no car, no insurance,” Miramontes said. “I went to several middle schools.” The basics of good hygiene were also not a top priority. “I didn’t know anything about how to take care of my health or what dental cleanings even meant.”

A trip to a school-based dental clinic in 2006 changed everything, and put her on a path to what she believes is her calling in life. She’s gone from sitting in the dental chair at Van Buren Middle School, to helping students at her alma mater as a student in the UNM Dental Hygiene program.

“We have issues with poverty in this state and I think sometimes we neglect dentistry and don’t give it the attention it deserves,” Miramontes said. 

That attention is being fully focused on New Mexico students through an integral partnership between Delta Dental of New Mexico, Albuquerque Public Schools and the UNM Health Sciences Center (UNM HSC).

The state’s largest dental insurance provider has long been a supporter of free school-based dental clinics like the one Miramontes experienced for nearly 15 years. They recently presented a $30,000 donation to UNM HSC for continued support of the program. The funds pay for equipment, supplies and salaries to support the clinics, said Christine Nathe, RDH, MS, professor and chief for UNM’s Division of Dental Hygiene and vice chair of the Department of Dental Medicine.

 “What makes these school clinics so special is that you have direct access to students who don’t always get dental care,” Nathe said.

Ed Lopez, Delta Dental of New Mexico’s chief executive officer, said the insurer is interested in expanding its support for school-based clinics around the state. “As a non-profit in New Mexico, we have a passion to provide more access to oral health care,” he said.

Miramontes is finishing her degree in the Division of Dental Medicine and plans to practice in New Mexico after graduation.

“These programs are so helpful because they aid people who are in need,” she said. “To have come to this point in my life makes me very proud.”