Destined for Dentistry

Deciding a career path is perhaps the toughest decision to make in one’s lifetime. How does anyone figure it out? Following in your parents’ footsteps is a common option, reading up on a class that was taught by an inspirational teacher could certainly lead to a career, but for Darren Wong, also known as Darren J. Wong, DDS, of Family Dentistry in Vallejo, the notion to be a dentist hit him hard, quite literally, as a passenger in a car accident.

As an early teen, Wong was drinking a bottle of Coke as a passenger in the back seat of a vehicle when it got hit from the side by an oncoming car. He was thrown into the seat in front of him and the Coke bottle caused severe damage to his front teeth. “They put me though oral surgery, they put me in braces through two-and-a-half years,” Wong recalls. “Ever since then I wanted to become a dentist.” He remembers the orthodontist telling his mother that they might not be able to save his front teeth, but could “possibly try something.” That struck a note with him – how to save someone’s teeth. Even as a pain-stricken 14-year-old, he was interested in the procedure and at that point decided his future in dentistry. “It was a pretty easy decision.”

“Initially I wanted to be an orthodontist,” Wong says. “But after I’d gone to dental school I didn’t want to be confined to just doing braces. I wanted to be a general practitioner.” There were no dentists in his family but a few of his uncles were physicians, one being a plastic surgeon. When deciding his career in medicine Wong asked their advice and they responded with the simple question: “Do you want someone’s life in your hands?” to which he responded “Not really.” Dentistry was the perfect fit for Wong. “You work everyday with your hands, it’s normally non-life threatening, it’s a much nicer profession, I think.”

Wong has now been a practicing dentist in Vallejo for 24 years. “I’ve seen three generations,” he says. “That’s how the ‘old physicians’ used to be: my daughter would see my physician, her daughter would see my physician … if you’ve been in business long enough you start seeing that.”

Family Dentistry is the name Wong decided for his practice. “We want to provide dental care to the entire family,” he says. Some dental offices only see children from 18 months to 12 years of age, while others only want to see adults. “I want to make our practice open to everybody,” he says. “It’s just like taking a car in for a checkup, you need a break job and they say ‘We don’t do breaks.’ I like being a general dentist. We see kids as young as 18 months and our oldest patient is 95.”

It’s that variety of patients, as well as changes in the field, that keeps Wong excited about his job. “It’s not static,” he says. “Something’s always new in dentistry. We’re always learning.” Things change so fast with the speed of technology that one must always remain alert and focused. “It’s not something that you learn once and do it for the rest of your life,” he says. “I’m not even using probably 20% of what I learned in school … it keeps you interested.”

The most recent technological advancement incorporated into Wong’s Family Dentistry practice is the use of lasers. After rigorous training and passing numerous exams, Wong now uses a Class 4 laser. “It’s neat,” he says. “It takes place of the scalpel – a cutting knife for surgery. The laser does the same thing but you don’t bleed because it cauterizes at the same time.” And it’s not just for cutting, but a number of other things, he explains. For example, “you can heal canker sores with it in half the time.”

When Wong went to school they weren’t using lasers. Actually, much has changed. “We didn’t have digital x-rays and now we are using them. We have better diagnostic tools. Even the injections have gotten much better; we haven’t quite found a way to get rid of the injections completely, but we’re getting there.”

Wong explains that one of the biggest misconceptions people have about going to the dentist is that they only look at your teeth. “We look at everything: oral soft tissue, lips, tonsils, saliva glands, joints…” He explains that there are other systemic problems that can be discovered by a trip to the dentist (i.e. diabetes can affect the gums, and periodontal disease can affect your heart and your joints). Typically people think that if they’re not in pain, then there’s no problem or need to see the dentist. Wong gives the drastic analogy of when a person gets diagnosed with cancer, they’re often not in pain at the time. It’s when they begin to feel the pain that it may be too late for medical assistance. “You don’t want to wait until it hurts,” he says. “That’s why you get your teeth examined every six months at a minimum.”

Flossing helps. Everyone is aware of its importance though few of us embrace flossing as a critical portion of our hygienic routine. Indeed a man of analogies, Wong explains that when a person showers, they generally wash underneath their arms and feet. “When you brush your teeth [without flossing] it’s like giving your teeth a shower but not washing under your arms and your feet.” But even so, flossing takes time, to which he responds: “I tell people if you started flossing twice a day for the next two weeks, you’re time would be cut in half by the end of the two weeks; your dexterity is not honed right away.” And if you think there’s a way to get out of it, you’re wrong. “There’s really no substitute for floss, yet.”

“Dentistry is evolving toward a more cosmetic profession,” Wong says. “With fluoridated water being more prevalent in California – it strengthens your teeth – we’re seeing less amounts of decay in people.” One of the most common cosmetic dental procedures is teeth whitening, and the method you should take when approaching it really depends on your age. “The younger you are, the better store-bought materials will work for you,” says Wong. “They tend to work best on teenagers, ages 20, 21, because your teeth haven’t discolored that much by then.” It is in your later years that a teeth-whitening trip to the dentist could be in your favor. “When you get older the dental office can use much stronger material.” He recommends trying the store bought items first, though that usually takes anywhere from 7-10 days for the full effect. At Family Dentistry the process takes about an hour.

Other cosmetic procedures include standard crowns and bridges, all-porcelain restorations, white composite fillings, restoration of implants, laser gum surgery, etc. The most commonly requested service is for caps and veneers. “The only thing I don’t do is braces,” says Wong. One of Wong’s favorite procedures to perform is known as Smile Design. “When someone smiles sometimes you see all teeth, or just as much gums as teeth. With smile design we try to fix that without major surgery by trimming the gum tissue, making the teeth look longer than they are … to make their smile more to what the patient would like to see.”

While this article is all about Dr. Wong, “It’s not just me,” he says. “It’s my whole staff that makes us stand out. When you come in here and we treat you, we’re not just treating a mouth, we’re treating a person.” Just as the name Family Dentistry implies, “Once you’re here, more or less you’re like a family member,” Wong says. “You are our number one priority.”


By Matt Larson: Matt Larson is not just a writer, he does lots of other stuff with his time. Example? Sure! He hosts stand-up comedy shows and would like YOU to attend on August 28, 2011 at the Fetterley Playhouse in Vallejo! Info @