As one of the older students in his class at UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry, Vinh “Danny” Nguyen, DDS ’08, RDH, took a more winding road to earning his dental degree than most.
“I started college majoring in business but didn’t like the direction I was headed,” he says. “My wife’s best friend was entering dental hygiene school, and that sparked an interest that really shaped my future.”
Engineering a coursework shift from business to dental hygiene, Danny entered the School of Dentistry’s dental hygiene program and graduated in 2001. The more he explored his new profession and worked alongside dentists every day, the more he wanted to pursue his own career in dentistry.
“My wife, Kristy, and I decided if I didn’t pursue dental school, I would probably regret it for the rest of my life,” he says.
Danny started the DDS program at the School of Dentistry in 2004, bringing years of perspective from dental hygiene and learning from some of the same professors who taught in his hygiene classes.
“I had to quit my job during dental school, so Kristy pretty much carried us financially throughout those four years,” he says.
After graduating in 2008, Danny built Eco Dental, a successful private practice that also focuses on reducing its carbon footprint through measures such as paperless operations, carpet made with recycled materials, and eco-friendly paint.
Many of Danny’s patients had negative experiences with their previous dentists. He values the opportunity to not only provide excellent treatment but also help them see the profession in a more positive light.
“In the beginning, some of my patients would barely let me look in their mouth,” he says. “After a few years, through patience and helping them work through those issues, they get to a point where they’re much less apprehensive.”
In the midst of his success, he never forgot his experiences at the School of Dentistry and the important foundation they gave him. In concert with the UTHealth Houston Many Faces, One Mission. fundraising campaign and its focus on improving Houston’s health, he and Kristy established two endowment funds to provide resources for the school’s faculty.
First, they created the Vinh “Danny” Nguyen RDH, DDS, Endowment Awards and Special Funds endowment in 2018 to support junior dental hygiene faculty at the School of Dentistry.
“The faculty made a huge difference for me when I was in the program, and I want to make sure we provide young professors with the resources to continue their development,” he says.
In 2022, he and Kristy created the Kristy and Vinh “Danny” Nguyen RDH, DDS, Family Endowed Fund in General Dentistry to support School of Dentistry faculty in general and restorative dentistry.
“To me, the faculty are what make the school,” he says. “They devote their lives to teaching and giving back to the students. As a student myself at one point, I want to show a little appreciation for everything they do.”
As Danny continues to experience the rewards of practicing dentistry, he expects that he and Kristy will always have the same appreciation for giving back that has led them to make such a difference already.
“Money can’t buy happiness until you give it away,” he says. “That’s part of the satisfaction you get from being able to give back.”