Dallas—As February comes to a close, so does National Children’s Dental Health Month. However, a local dentist found ways to promote dental health throughout the year.
Dr. Dane Hoang is a Dallas-based pediatric dentist who has volunteered with Operation Smile since 2008. Operation Smile is a nonprofit organization that treats children with cleft lips and cleft palates all over the world.
Hoang’s first mission was to Vietnam.
“I choose to go to Vietnam because that’s where I’m from,” Hoang said. “That’s where my family’s from and I still speak the language. In Vietnam, not only [do] I work on teeth, but I’ll run around and be a translator.
“I did another trip in the Dominican Republic. I didn’t feel as useful, because I don’t speak Spanish.”
Her family came to the United States in 1979.
“These are my people,” Hoang said. “If my parents didn’t make the choice to get out of the country after the war, this could have been me standing here pushing and shoving, trying to get my kid to get the free dental care they need.”
While on these trips, Hoang made several friends. One of her friends is dental hygienist Jade Bernard, who lives in Leesburg, VA. Bernard met Hoang on a mission to Hanoi, Vietnam. Hoang has a tradition of taking new volunteers out for a snail dinner on Vietnam missions.
“Anyone who can survive a snail dinner with her is a trooper,” Bernard said. “Can you imagine a bunch of students hovered over a red chair, being served snails and drinking beer, after eight hours of dental care for children? It’s really something.”
Although she has not been able to go on missions due to COVID-19, Hoang has not stopped giving back. Operation Smile has a program called Serving Smiles, where volunteers work with local restaurants to provide meals for healthcare workers.
Hoang has also continued working at her practice and raising awareness during National Children’s Dental Health Month. She said dental health is an important part of general health and that teeth are not “just teeth.”
“You’ve got to have healthy teeth to have that beautiful smile,” Hoang said. “A smile is just everything. A smile is so easy to give to people.”
Dr. Carmen Kamsas, a dentist who met Hoang through Operation Smile and lives in Houston, said another motivation to keep up with dental health is a focus on appearance. She social media can make young people more aware of how their teeth look, which will in turn motivate them to keep their teeth healthy.
“If you have good teeth, you don’t have to spend a lot of money,” Kamsas said. “If you’re not eating candy, you’re not eating all these bad things, and drinking Cokes, you’re going to save a lot of money through your life by having cleanings and not having fillings, crowns, root canals and implants.”
Hoang has been involved in several fundraising efforts for Operation Smile. She even chaired a gala in Houston last October, which raised almost $300,000 for the organization.
Bernard said the three miss working together and are eager to go on another mission with Operation Smile. This will give both Hoang and Bernard another chance to connect with their Vietnamese heritage.
“For Dane and I, it’s very special because we are both Vietnamese,” Bernard said. “We both want to give back to our country. I think starting with the children, the youth, that builds a better tomorrow. I think that’s the reason why Dane has inspired me so much to become so active with Operation Smile. It’s to help to build the youth of today for a better tomorrow for Vietnam. She’s been a great inspiration in that sense.”