By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez

As originally published in Mega Doctor News newsprint edition October 2018

Doctor Melissa Uriegas may, quite possibly, be the youngest doctor of dentistry that I have ever met.  But I can tell you that she was the most fun to talk to.

Ever since she was twelve years old, she planned to be a dentist. It only took her one visit to a dental office to realize that that’s what she wanted to be, a doctor of dentistry. It took years of nourishing her vision and studying to get to where she wanted to be.

Originally from Edinburg, Dr. Uriegas attended Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD and graduated from PSJA North. From there, she attended the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA). With a smile on her face, she told Mega Doctor News, that she was the first high school student ever to be accepted into dental school in San Antonio. She said, “It was with a program called the DEAP, Dental Early Admission Program. The DEAP consisted of 3 years of undergraduate education, followed by 4 years of dental school. At the time, I wanted to go to San Antonio because it was the number one dental school in the country.”

Things changed for her when she was an undergraduate student and she visited The University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston. By doing so, she realized that the dental school in Houston was calling her name. She decided to pursue her dental degree in Houston, where she had also been accepted into their dental program.

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After graduating as a Doctor of Dental Surgery, Dr. Uriegas completed a hospital-based residency program, known as the General Practice Residency, at the Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, New Jersey.

Being part of the hospital-based program was a unique and fulfilling experience. She said, “I would take patients who were medically compromised into the OR and help them with all of their dental needs in one visit.”

After her residency, she worked in Cameron County for a few years where she practiced in private practice and hospital settings. “The office was right next to a hospital, so I was able to use my special training from the residency program in the hospital setting.”

A mere two years after she completed the General Practice Residency in New Jersey, Dr. Uriegas was nominated for the Texas Academy of General Dentistry’s Texas New Dentist of the Year 2016.

Dr. Uriegas believes in continuing education and has begun a year of training with The Dawson Academy. “Through this advanced training, I plan on gaining the skills to make me the go-to-dentist of the Rio Grande Valley. If you have a dental problem that needs to be solved, I will be one of the few in our area to consistently provide the best, most conservative treatment and outcome for you and your family.”

Having her own private practice allows her time to learn and train more, and to acquire unique skills not often found in the region. Dr. Uriegas was persistent in meeting her goal. She planned to have her practice within five to seven years after graduation, but by the third year, she was in the middle of the creation of her dental practice.

How she found the location for her practice is very interesting. Dr. Uriegas said that she went to pay some dues for her dental study club to a dental surgeon on North 22nd St. in McAllen. She had to park in front of a building that had been empty for a couple of years. Before walking all the way to pay her dues, she jumped as high as she could to peek over the fence, trying to find out more about the building.

Once she talked to the staff at the surgeon’s office, they told her it used to be a dental practice of a retired doctor. “I would like to see what it looks like.” She said, “It had green shag carpet, flower wallpaper, wood paneling, and all of the cabinetry was built very high up as the previous doctor was tall. He was about 6’3”, which is more than a foot taller than me.”

Dr. Uriegas loved the North 22nd street location, her research shows that dentistry in McAllen started in this area. “The dental community used to call the area ‘El Grupo’ because there was a dentist at my current office location, next door to the left there is an oral surgeon, to the right of my office is another dentist, and behind that there used to be an orthodontist office.” For her, 4113 N. 22nd Street has a lot of history and is an excellent area to practice dentistry.

Last August, Dr. Uriegas completed a year in her new practice. “We opened Uriegas Dentistry at the end of August 2017.”

Are you married? “Yes, I am married. I was setting up this office at the same time I was planning a wedding. We got married on July 8, 2017, and I opened Uriegas Dentistry weeks after. We had a lot of fun and our adventure continues,” she said.

Her husband, Michael Sullivan, DDS, is originally from the Fort Worth area. “I told him the Rio Grande Valley was a great place to live and practice dentistry. When he graduated, he moved here and worked in private practice for a few years, before becoming one of the dentists at the Veterans Administration in Harlingen.”

How many people work with you? “There are a lot of people that work with us behind the scenes to ensure a quality visit for our patients. A few of our team members have over 20 years of experience in dentistry. Each one brings unique skills to our practice, and I am extremely grateful for their work ethic and commitment to our patients.”

One of the challenges that Dr. Uriegas sometimes faces is that she is young, and some patients do not realize she is the doctor. However, they are soon impressed with her knowledge and professionalism.

The other challenge is that people are afraid of dentistry. “Consequently, people delay getting treatment, which often leads to more invasive issues,” she said. “I think that would be the most frequent problem that we see.”

“We designed our office to feel like a home because our patients’ comfort is important. We hope to ease any worries or fears towards dental visits and procedures by taking the extra time to understand past experiences and future dental care goals.” Dr. Uriegas continued, “Making our patients’ experience with us a positive one is what we truly care about.”That is her main priority.

How It All Started

It is important to say that Dr. Melissa Uriegas is a VAMOS scholar. This means that she qualified to receive a four-year scholarship through The Valley Alliance of Mentors for Opportunities and Scholarships.

“VAMOS is an excellent resource because the scholarship that you get affords you the time to go and explore all the resources that you have at the university.” She said, “When I was there I was afforded the opportunity to study abroad. I traveled to, and learned in, seven different countries, thanks in part to receiving a VAMOS scholarship that allowed me to dedicate my time to study and earn good grades without struggling to pay for my education.”

She pointed out that the best part of VAMOS is the mentorship. “Even when I was in New Jersey, I would call VAMOS.”

She says that she has a couple of goals, “they are silly,” she says, but still, they are part of her bucket list.  “I’d like to be the dentist for Oral-B or the dentist for Colgate in their official company commercials.”

One thing she is very good at is playing golf. She played NCAA Division I Golf at the University of Texas-Pan American.

Dr. Uriegas is highly involved with organized dentistry; she has served as Board of Trustee for the National Hispanic Dental Association; Alumni of the prestigious American Dental Association’s – Institute for Diversity in Leadership; and Delegate on the House of Representatives for the Texas Dental Association.

She is also a member of the Seattle Study Club – of South Texas, and the Academy of General Dentistry. “I can see myself one day being the president of one of these major societies and helping to make a difference.”

Dr. Uriegas is heavily involved in the exploration into dentistry. With the American Dental Association (ADA), she was chosen as one of fifteen people in the nation to be in the Institute for Diversity in Leadership (IDL). The ADA IDL is designed to enhance the leadership skills of dentists who belong to racial, ethnic, and/or gender backgrounds that have been traditionally underrepresented in leadership roles. Through this, she has traveled to Chicago to the ADA headquarters for the courses.

“We take leadership courses that demonstrate how to utilize our knowledge and skill in dentistry to give back to our community.” With this knowledge, Dr. Uriegas created and coordinates ‘Exploration into Dentistry.’ This year-round program is designed to motivate, educate, and prepare students for higher education and continuing studies in professional programs related to dentistry.

“This is how I work in conjunction with the students at UTRGV. Four times out of the year, I invite students to Uriegas Dentistry to help foster their dental passions. Then, I make training courses for them to learn, and I allow them to explore dentistry.”

“It is difficult for students to get the opportunity to speak with doctors and specialists. Since these specialists are my colleagues, I said ‘Let’s get these students in here to stimulate their desire to pursue a life in dentistry.’ That’s something that I hope to continue.”

“We are building a tradition at Uriegas Dentistry, a tradition founded on quality – quality of service, atmosphere, hospitality, and family because we value each and every patient,” she finalized.

Dr. Melissa Uriegas was selected as the Mega Doctor for this issue for her dedication to providing the best dental health care for her patients and her work to advance the educational opportunities for students of dentistry.