Dr. Mendoza embraces role of messenger at HDA helm
On his way to the annual conference of the Society of American Indian Dentists in June, Dr. Ricardo Mendoza saw the trip as a chance to sing the praises of Hispanics in dentistry.
As 2019 president of the Hispanic Dental Association (HDA), Dr. Mendoza brings zeal and dedication to his mission of broadening opportunities – especially as he speaks with young people – in the oral health care profession. He was among several dignitaries to give opening remarks at the conference in Oklahoma City, OK.
“There are a variety of opportunities in front of you,” he explained of his overarching message during his term, noting that while the numbers are increasing, Hispanics still are underrepresented in the field.
Dr. Mendoza, a member of the North Side Branch of the Chicago Dental Society and an 18-year member of the pediatrics department of the University of Illinois College of Dentistry, has been on the go since his term started in January: messenger, role model and mentor to young Hispanics with a message to dream early and dream big.
“We need to offer younger kids a vision” of what a career in dentistry and more broadly oral health care can look like. “We are building programs to talk to them (at an earlier age) so they can see themselves” in the field, he said.
At clinics, health fairs and other outreach events that seek to engage with Hispanic families, the message is to open their eyes to “see this is a possibility,” he said. While more Hispanic dentists are urgently needed, Dr. Mendoza said, advocates also stress the opportunities available across the dental workforce – from assistants to hygienists to organized dentistry-- to roles in academia and the military. “It’s a field that’s important” for Hispanics, he said.
The disparity in Hispanic dentists is glaring as data from the 2010 census shows. Of the 161,305 active dentists in the field at that time, 8,650 were of Hispanic descent, just 5% of the total. Hispanics made up 18% of the population in 2017 and are projected to grow to 26 % in the next 30 years.
Scholarships and other grants to young Hispanic students are an important resource, Dr. Mendoza said, providing financial encouragement and motivation to young people to join the field. “We are looking for representation in all areas of dentistry,” he said.
Other priorities this year, he said, are raising the profile of the HDA, joining with medical and dental societies to improve access to care and boosting involvement in the association’s professional and student chapters across the country. Encouraging and cultivating Hispanic leaders also is an important mission, he said.
Dr. Mendoza, father to six-year-old twin boys, is a native of Venezuela. He discovered an early passion for pediatric dentistry while finishing school at the Universidad Central de Venezuela and practicing briefly in Caracas. He shifted to Boston to obtain his master’s degree at Boston University before settling in Chicago. Managing partner of the Logan Square Chicago Smile Specialists and The Ortho Suite, Dr. Mendoza also is devoted to special needs individuals and serves as chairman of Illinois Special Olympics Special Smiles program. He has been a member of the HDA since 1998.
The special ingredient to success in the Hispanic community is family support, Dr. Mendoza said, especially for a career in dentistry. The contributions and sacrifices of family members are crucial, Dr. Mendoza said. “No one can do this without the support of family.”