Originally from Seoul, South Korea, Janet Youn, D.D.S., earned her dental degree from the Ohio State University College of Dentistry and then moved to New York City to pursue her dream of making it big in the Big Apple.
As a first-generation dentist, Dr. Youn was not sure how to hit the ground running and did not find the necessary support from organized dentistry.
“I turned to national and local dental organizations for guidance, but I did not find the support that I needed. For instance, a mentorship program did not exist back then,” she said. “I could not connect and relate to other dentists at these dental meetings because the members were much older, and there were very few, if any, Asian American dentists in attendance.”
Dr. Youn eventually made connections and found mentors by seeking them out herself, and she is now the owner of a general dental practice in Manhattan. Her experiences, combined with the desire to help provide the support she lacked, led her to found the Asian American Dental Society. The society launched during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May with a networking event in New York City that drew about 60 attendees.
“Over the years, speaking with dental students, residents and recent graduates, I discovered that some of my challenges still exist,” Dr. Youn said. “This is why and how the concept of the Asian American Dental Society was born. This is an organization that has been formulating in my mind for some time now, but it became even more apparent during the pandemic. The random acts of violence against Asians, the racial slurs, the discrimination based on skin color were all reasons why AADS was even more imperative.”
Dr. Youn recruited some of her friends and colleagues to help launch the society, including Mina Kim, D.D.S., president of the New York County Dental Society; Lewis Chen, D.D.S., co-founder and managing partner of a dental studio in New York; and Vera Tang, D.D.S., vice president of the New York County Dental Society.
The Asian American Dental Society’s mission is to build a community where Asian American dentists can network, share ideas, learn, advocate and uplift each other.
“We want to create a safe space for our Asian American dentists to ask questions and share their experiences without judgment,” Dr. Youn said.
While data from the ADA Health Policy Institute show Asian American dentists made up 18% of the dental workforce in 2020, the society’s founders said these dentists are underrepresented in organized dentistry and leadership roles.
Other dental organizations exist that represent specific groups within the Asian American community, and the founders hope the Asian American Dental Society will help unite those dentists. They also hope to expand the society to states beyond the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, where it is currently based.
“Our profession needs organized dentistry in order to ensure that all dentists are protected and respected and, most importantly, to support our future dentists,” Dr. Youn said. “We are in our infancy, but if the positive responses that we received after our first event are any indication, it is my hope that AADS will continue to grow and live beyond my professional career into the far future.”
In addition to organizing networking events, the founders also plan to offer mentor matching, business coaching and outreach events to help dentists give back to their communities.
“Most people do not realize that Asian Americans face poverty and mental health issues, as we are often seen as the model minority,” Dr. Kim said. “We hope by bringing together Asian American dentists from diverse backgrounds, we can serve as a strong voice for not just the dental community, but our patients as well.”
To learn more and get involved, follow @aads_ny on Instagram.