Image: Dr. William Lee Chiueh, Dental Director at SFCHC
Visiting the dentist can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be an educational and valuable experience. The experience can become more valuable when you have the right dentist. Well, that is where Dr. Chiueh, the dental director at SFCHC, comes in! He has been serving thousands of patients at SFCHC for more than five years now. So, we sat down with him and asked him a few questions about his love for dentistry and for oral health education so that you can get to know him.
Question: As a child, did you want to be a dentist? If not, what made you choose dentist as a career?
Dr. Chiueh: As a child, I loved building model airplanes and figuring out how things are put together. I also loved being around people and social environments. I chose dentistry because it gave me the best of both worlds. It allows me to work with patients in a team-oriented environment where I get to solve daily problems like figuring out how to restore a mouth that has been afflicted with cavities or gum disease.
Question: Why did you want to join the SFCHC team?
Dr. Chiueh: I’ve always wanted to give back to the community where I was raised. Joining SFCHC allowed me to do this. I joined the team because of its mission, staff, and patients. The mission of SFCHC advocates for increasing access to medical and oral health services, and providing these services with high quality of care. SFCHC has a very special group of people who work hard to restore and maintain the overall health of the community. All of the providers and staff here have an inner desire to help with great pride and positive energy. Not to mention that the trust and love we get from the community makes it easy to do the job.
Question: What are some of the challenges your patients face when it comes to oral care?
Dr. Chiueh: My patients face many challenges like not receiving proper hygiene education and not being able to pay for oral hygiene. Many of my patients have had years of cavities and gum disease present in their mouths and they don’t know about it because they haven’t seen a dentist. By the time they come to see me, it is sometimes too late to save their teeth, and as a result, they lose several of them. They are usually in shock because they think that regular brushing is all you need. People forget that to prevent this from happening, you need to floss and brush correctly, and see your dentist regularly. If you come to see a dentist when you feel pain the issue may be beyond a simple checkup.
Question: How does the SFCHC dental department support patients?
Dr. Chiueh: Our dental department supports patients by providing preventative dental education, comprehensive dental services, and serving as a resource for more affordable dental care. Our providers thoroughly educate patients on how cavities form, how gum disease begins and progresses, and what steps are necessary to prevent these issues. Our medical assistants also provide amazing oral hygiene education, showing each patient one on one how to correctly brush and floss their teeth.
We are also unique in that we offer comprehensive dental services which our patients appreciate. All of our work is done in house, except for molar root canals, very difficult extractions, orthodontics, and complicated prosthodontic cases, which are referred out to UCLA School of Dentistry. We have very skilled dentists here dedicated to a high standard of care.
For patients who are worried about the cost of dental care, we offer a sliding scale discount to our patients so that their fees are based upon their income. Lower income patients pay lower fees for dental care. Since we offer dental services for a fraction of private practice rates, many of our patients are able to afford the care they require. We really look for ways to address the barriers of receiving quality oral care.
Question: What other services does the dental department of SFCHC offer patients?
Dr. Chiueh: Unlike some Federally Qualified Health Centers, we offer crowns, partial dentures, complete dentures, and non-molar root canals. This type of comprehensive care is important to fully restore the oral health of patients. Since many of our patients are elderly, the replacing of missing teeth is an important service we offer as it affects not only the way a person looks, but also speaks and eats. This can affect their self-confidence. We also provide nitrous oxide sedation for fearful children or adults that require it for the completion of procedures. And we provide referrals to our wonderful behavioral health and medical departments for patients that are in need of these services.
Question: What oral health advice do you have for our readers?
Dr. Chiueh: Other than the usual “brush twice a day and floss”, I would advise readers to keep up with regular dental appointments. Many things in the mouth can change within the span of a year or two, and many small issues can become large issues in that short amount of time. I would also encourage people to really get involved with their dental treatment plan. If there is something you don’t understand about a dental procedure, ask your dentist questions so that you and your provider can work as a team to maintain good oral health. I always have my patients hold a mirror so I can point out issues in their mouth and I also point out cavities to them on the x-rays. This way, I feel like the patient can really get engaged and understand what we are trying to do for them.
Question: Lastly, our readers want to know, do you follow your own advice when it comes to oral care?
Dr. Chiueh: I do follow my own advice when it comes to dental care because I truly believe in it. I understand how cavities form and gum disease progresses so that gives me the drive to brush and floss every day. This is why I want my own patients to become experts of their own mouths so that they can develop this drive as well to keep their pearly whites healthy. If I can do it, you can do it too!
Question: Any last words?
Dr. Chiueh: I would just like to reach out to all the readers that are fearful of the dentist. I hear very often from patients “I’m so scared of the dentist” or “I hate the dentist, no offense”. I do understand that working in your mouth can be a very scary experience. It is an intimate place and the thought of having work done can be uncomfortable for many. However, I know this fear can be overcome as I’ve experienced it with many of my patients. You do not want to let this fear win and give up on your mouth. It is easy to take your teeth for granted until you do not have the capacity to chew or speak correctly anymore. There is a dentist out there for everyone so try to be patient and you will find the provider for you. A good provider will be one that is patient, listens to you, and makes you feel comfortable. If you would like to visit the SFCHC dental department and allow our providers to try to alleviate your fears, please do so. We would love to help you out.