Growing up in Vietnam, I had little interaction with dentistry because visits to the dentist were considered a luxury. For many, if not most, their first visit is when they need dentures. This culture of dental neglect resulted in my own family also holding little regard for oral health. It was not until we arrived in America that we were made aware of the importance of practicing good oral health care. Through a program in elementary school, I learned how to care for my teeth properly. I recall being ecstatic when I was given a new toothbrush and floss. My classmates had made fun of my yellow teeth, so I was determined to make my teeth shiny. But having no prior experience with flossing, I asked my parents for help. They were shocked that I used a string to “saw” between my teeth. My parents forbade me to floss because they were concerned about my gums bleeding after flossing. As a result, the health of my teeth deteriorated. I found it difficult to eat, and my toothaches became worse. Soon my parents had little choice but to seek professional help.
Visiting the dentist for the first time in my life caused great anxiety. However, Dr. Nguyen eased my tension. She explained how good hygiene practices, including flossing, should be an everyday hygiene routine. From my first visit, I had an increasingly positive impression of my dentist over the course of several visits; dentists became superheroes, my dentist in particular. Since my early visits to the dentist, my family has held the highest regard for practicing good oral hygiene. This shift in mindset was significant, and our interest in dentistry was aroused to such an extent that my mother became a dental assistant. Coming to the dental clinic with my mother caused me to notice gaps in the smiles of my neighbors, indicating that they, too, have been struggling with oral health issues. This instilled in me a desire at an early age to want to help everyone in need of oral health care, as Dr. Nguyen had helped me in particular and my family more generally speaking.
By the time I entered college, therefore, dentistry was a natural choice. I spent the next five years engaged in a wide variety of efforts, in addition to my biology program, to learn everything that I could about dentistry. I began volunteering for the Mighty Mouth Program, teaching oral hygiene skills in local schools. Visiting a dentist for the first time can be stressful, so to help ease anxiety among younger patients, I would invent pretend lessons that allowed them to become more familiar and at ease with oral care routines. I also began serving on this organization’s mobile dental clinic, where I became more and more impressed that practicing good hygiene habits requires raising awareness for the whole family. I traveled to various locations in XXXX County, California, to bring oral hygiene awareness to immigrant families in rural areas who lacked access to dental care. This network I helped create allowed me to volunteer at XXXX’s Dental Clinic. The families I interacted with there were similar to mine, many recent immigrants, most with language barriers, all of whom needed dental care they could not afford. Seeing them come into the clinic and learning of their suffering helped me to become very highly motivated to do what I could to contribute to reducing disparities in access to oral health in my community.
My volunteer activities have expanded far beyond my local community, as I have seized every opportunity to help promote and improve oral health nationwide ven globally. Through the Minnesota HCOP Fellowship, I was involved with a project that enabled access to oral health programs in the Twin Cities for members of various underrepresented socio-cultural groups. My focus was on the Hmong community (a minority ethnicity from Vietnam), where I especially appreciated how my efforts to understand a patient’s cultural heritage helped gain the patient’s trust. This effort to experience diverse cultures led me to a dental clinic in Istanbul, where I assisted with the provision of oral health care for war refugees. Working with war refugees in Turkey brought home the glaring nature of global disparities in access to everything, including oral health care.
I welcome the challenge and rigor of pursuing dentistry as my career. Since I have earned a Master’s degree in Anatomical Science, I am confident I can succeed in a dentistry program. I am approaching my dental education the same way I try daily: with great courage. As an immigrant, I have overcome language barriers and have grown up in a single-parent household. This has taught me to be a positive person even through adversity. I have the strength to learn from life’s obstacles and appreciate my achievements. Aiming to become an exceptionally compassionate dentist, I look forward to devoting a lifetime of special attention to patients who otherwise lack access to dental care.