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Volunteer Story United States

Voices From the Front Line: Q&A with Dentist Dr. Dane Hoang

Photo: Jasmin Shah.

Our promise of improving health and dignity during the COVID-19 pandemic endures. Once again, we’re providing surgery and in-person care while taking stringent measures to keep families safe. Hope is on the horizon. And we remain focused on what cleft care makes possible for children, helping them to better breathe, eat, speak and live with confidence.

In celebration of Dental Hygiene Month, we’re sharing how pediatric dentist and longtime volunteer Dr. Dane Hoang delivers care that's vital to improving the lives of patients born with cleft conditions. 

As an Operation Smile medical volunteer who’s attended more than 10 surgical programs, Dane has a deeply rooted commitment to families living in Hue, Vietnam, near where she was born and lived until her parents fled the country to immigrate to the U.S. in 1979.

“I've been volunteering with Operation Smile as a pediatric dentist on surgical and dental programs since 2008,” she said. “It’s been a life-changing experience for me to travel around the world and meet some of the most amazing human beings who have dedicated their lives to help children.”

Today, Dane is battling new challenges as a devoted essential health care provider fighting to ensure a safe environment that protects patients in her local community against the spread of COVID-19.

“I have been in private practice for over 20 years,” Dane said. “And the past 18 months have been the most challenging time in my career.”

Whether volunteering on an Operation Smile program or providing ongoing services at one of our many care centers, dentists like Dane focus on delivering care to patients who might otherwise never be able to access it. For some, this care is lifesaving.

We connected with Dane to learn more about what inspires her to volunteer for Operation Smile and how working on the frontlines of the pandemic has challenged her in ways she never thought possible. 

Dr. Dane Hoang comforts a young patient during the 2016 Operation Smile dental mission at Hue Odonto-Stomatology Hospital in Hue, Vietnam. Photo: Jasmin Shah.

Q: What inspired you to become a dentist? 

A: “Growing up, my family was always business oriented. I can remember playing and working with my hands in my parents’ jewelry store at a young age. My parents’ work ethic and independence inspired me to find an occupation that would incorporate both autonomy and manual dexterity. The field of dentistry provided me with the best of both worlds.

“Maintaining a healthy mouth can prevent gum disease, tooth decay and bad breath. More so, bad oral health, particularly if you have gum disease, can elevate your risk of major health problems such as heart attack and stroke. Dental Hygiene Month is important to raise awareness by reminding everyone to practice proper oral hygiene in order to achieve optimal oral health to have a beautiful smile.”

Volunteer dentist Dr. Dane Hoang with 6-month-old Thi Minh before surgery during a 2016 surgical program in Vietnam. Both of Thi Minh's parents were also born with cleft conditions. Photo: Jasmin Shah.

Q: What obstacles did you face as a practicing dentist working in the COVID-19 pandemic? 

A: “I have been in private practice for over 20 years, and the past 18 months have been the most challenging time in my career. During the six weeks stay-home order, I had weekly meetings with my staff to reassure them of the future of our practices. We discussed prioritizing the health of patients and staff, setting up proper COVID-19 protocols and maintaining a safe environment.”

Q: Can you tell us a little more about your experiences volunteering with Operation Smile? Do you have a favorite memory you can share with us?

A: “I've been volunteering with Operation Smile as a pediatric dentist on surgical and dental programs since 2008. It’s been a life-changing experience for me to travel around the world and meet some of the most amazing human beings who have dedicated their lives to help children by volunteering with Operation Smile. On my last medical program in Hue, Vietnam, I had the opportunity to assist Dr. Phuong Nguyen, a well-respected plastic surgeon from Ho Chi Minh City, in the operating room as she skillfully repaired the cleft lip of a 2-year-old girl.

“After the surgery, I had the honor of handing over the child to the parents who were in tears when they saw the transformation of their little girl’s face. It was just magical!”

Volunteer dentists like Dane often remain by a patient's side before, during and after their surgery in order to monitor their health and safety at each stage of a surgical program. Photo: Jasmin Shah.

Q: What motivates you to continue volunteering for Operation Smile even after the pandemic ends?  

A:Children born with cleft conditions in the U.S. get it repaired right away. To go to any country and help change a kid’s life with a relatively short surgery, you’re not only changing that child’s life but the lives of their family as well. When many of these children are born with cleft conditions, they are shunned from society because of the stigma. In Vietnam, there’s a belief that your whole family is bad luck if a child with cleft condition is born. So, when a child receives surgery, it’s like they are whole again. You’re changing their life, their family’s lives, the community and the whole country. Hopefully as they get older, they can turn around and somehow help the organization or help other families who are in a similar situation – or just give back in general, because someone helped them – paying it forward.

“I also ask myself, ‘How did my family and I manage to arrive to the U.S. as immigrants?’ Well, it was because there were compassionate people who helped us refugees get here to the States after we landed in Indonesia and lived there for six months. So, this is how I pay it forward for those who helped us. This is my passion. It’s also become my sister Thanh’s passion, and she now supports Operation Smile through her fine jewelry company Le Dragon d’Or. To me, in spite of the long hours of the volunteer work itself, in many ways supporting Operation Smile also feels like a vacation – to step away to refresh and renew just by helping others.”

Photo: Jasmin Shah.

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