Dr. Andrew Kwon comes from a family of dentists, but the decision to become one himself was not easy. Having a father, grandfather, siblings and uncles who were dentists made him think long and hard about what the profession meant and how he would want to practice it.
The West Covina dentist did not hesitate, however, when he was asked about providing free dental care to the 50 students in Cal Poly Pomona’s Renaissance Scholars program, which offers services and support to those who grew up in foster care.
“I want to make sure they know not only is Cal Poly Pomona trying to help them, but there are other people in the world who are going to help them get where they want to go,” Kwon says.
Cal Poly Pomona alumnus Dr. Guillermo Camacho provided care for Renaissance Scholars with dental problems until 2011, when he retired and Kwon and his partner, Dr. Young Kim, took over the practice. Kwon went a step further by providing the students with free cleanings twice a year, as well as free X-rays, fillings and other dental procedures.
“He said he wanted to see every student for a cleaning right away,” says Monique Allard, Cal Poly Pomona’s executive director of Student Support and Equity Programs. “He was so enthusiastic about helping our students. It was really wonderful.”
Cal Poly Pomona began its Renaissance Scholars program in 2002 to help give students coming out of foster care the resources they need to succeed in college. Renaissance Scholars receive financial assistance, year-round housing and access to meals during school breaks. They go through workshops on topics such as financial literacy, emotional wellness and healthy relationships.
So far, Cal Poly Pomona’s Renaissance Scholars program has served well over 100 students. One of them, Sam Cannon, says he immediately felt comfortable when he saw Kwon for the first time in 2011 for a cleaning and X-rays. Cannon had been getting headaches because of two impacted wisdom teeth, which Kwon later removed. To his surprise and relief, Cannon says, he felt a little pressure afterward, but no pain or swelling.
Cannon says he looks forward to his visits to Sunset Dental Professionals because he knows he will be treated with consideration. He has recommended Kwon to friends and family members.
A Pomona native, Cannon, 24, is studying sociology and is looking into pursuing a master’s degree in social work after he graduates this spring. He also hopes to start his own business someday, and he sees Kwon as an inspiration.
“Every time I see successful and helpful professional people give back, I think it’s important,” Cannon says.
Kwon, 36, enjoys talking about his profession and how dentists can identify a variety of health problems by carefully examining and talking to patients. But for years, he resisted becoming a dentist. One reason was that he simply didn’t want to follow the same path so many others in his family did. Also, he says, the profession had become too focused on money, at least in the public’s perception. He says he has had to overcome initial skepticism from some of his own patients. “They come in very guarded about any recommendations about treatment,” Kwon says. He uses photos of patients’ teeth and detailed talks with patients to help them understand the reasons for his recommendations.
After graduating from UC San Diego in 1999, Kwon spent several years working as a consultant for a biotech firm before deciding to become a dentist. He says he’s tried to practice dentistry in a way that shows appreciation for his patients’ trust in him.
Once Kwon completed his dental training, he practiced for two years with his father, Dr. Michael Kwon, an oral surgeon in Los Angeles. The elder Kwon died of cancer in 2010.
“It makes you realize what’s important,” Kwon says of his father’s death. “We all want to be successful, but it makes you realize, ‘What is success?’”
Kwon says it’s been a pleasure working with the Renaissance Scholars program and its students. He’s told the students he hopes they’ll look for opportunities to help others too.
Seeing how hard the students have worked to succeed has put his own life in perspective, Kwon says.
“They have given me more than I’ve given them.”
(Photo: Dr. Andrew Kwon)