Dr. Duyen "Nalie" Nguyen has known since she was a child that giving people a smile they could be proud of was what she wanted to do with her life. And as a dentist and dental surgeon, working with her patients’ smiles is what Dr. Nguyen does almost every day — in Malone and around the world.
Dr. Nguyen came to Alice Hyde in 2012 after a one-year residency in Syracuse left her wanting to spend more time in the states and searching for a place to apply her love of dental surgery. Since she arrived at Alice Hyde’s Dental Center, Dr. Nguyen has been caring for the smiles of the community.
Not only is Dr. Nguyen lucky enough to have found her passion in dentistry, she’s one of the lucky few who find a way to combine their passion with a favored pastime. For years now, the Montreal native has been using her free time to help bring dental care to those who rarely, if ever, have had a chance to receive it before.
Her work abroad began years ago, during a trip to Costa Rica with her sister, Annie, who was studying to become a dental hygienist at the time. Since that first excursion Dr. Nguyen has taken time away each year and traveled to destinations including Nicaragua, Fiji, and last summer to Guatemala — again with her sister — with organizations that work to bring dental care to disadvantaged and isolated populations.
Dr. Nguyen spreads her contributions between different groups each year, preferring groups that work to promote and create sustainable dental services in the regions they visit. She called her experiences powerful reminders of how impactful dental hygiene and dental education, can be for those who don’t have regular access to caregivers like her.
“There’s definitely fear, just like there is here,” she said. “Many of these people haven’t seen a dentist for most of their adult life. So it can be very anxiety-inducing, but there’s also this relief and appreciation. It’s a very powerful experience to be able to help them.”
When Dr. Nguyen visited Guatemala she worked almost exclusively with patients under the age of 15, spending two weeks doing everything from tooth extraction to cleaning and filling cavities. It’s work that often reminds her of why she became a dentist in the first place: a free dental clinic near her home in Montreal that she often walked by on the way home from school.
“I always enjoyed working with my hands when I was a kid,” she said. “The people there, at the clinic (in Montreal), they looked like they were having a lot of fun. And I thought ‘I want to do that as well’.”
Where Dr. Nguyen will travel to next, she isn’t sure. But wherever she goes, it will be with an eye on doing “anything to help,” and create an impact that’s sustainable and endures long after she returns to Alice Hyde.
“I think that education piece, that’s the hardest part because of the language barriers,” she said. “But it’s also the most rewarding. You’re empowering people to make a really important, positive change in their lives.”