The Dentists and Orthodontists of Montebello
Through this pandemic, we have applauded doctors and nurses for their frontline work while dentists and orthodontists are usually overlooked. Like hospital workers, dental care workers have also continued to work diligently through these times. But unlike nurses and physicians, dental workers usually work in private smaller offices. Oftentimes, dentists and orthodontists are entrepreneurs therefore, they are more likely to face economic impact during a crisis like this. That, on top of the nature of dental work and how COVID is spread, makes being a dental worker more dangerous than ever. Nevertheless, these dentists have pushed through and continue to do the work because of their passion and dedication to their craft.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Dino Hernandez from Dr. Dino C. Hernandez, D.D.S. Inc., Dr. Patrick Kang from Bello Dental, Dr. Ray Arjang from Ray Orthodontics, Dr. Jelani Winslow from Whittier Palm Dental, and Dr. Shahab Parsa from My LA Braces (Hyman Orthodontics) about their journey to starting their own practice and how this pandemic has affected them.
Each of them had to overcome many hurdles to get to where they are today. Their courage and perseverance not only led to their successful practices, but better prepared them for the pandemic that would flip the business world upside down. Their attitude is what keeps them hopeful for the future. Each of them share some words of wisdom that will hopefully propel aspiring dental workers and entrepreneurs alike to spring forward and chase their dreams.
Dr. Dino from Dr. Dino C. Hernandez, D.D.S. Inc. is originally from the Philippines. There is where he started his journey to becoming a dentist. He graduated from the college of dentistry in 1989 and started practicing in the Philippines. In 1997, he immigrated to Florida where he was a dental hygienist for four years. He decided to move to California because there were more opportunities for immigrants to advance in the field. Once in California, he was accepted into the University of Southern California where he graduated in just two years. In 1999, he began working in an office in Alhambra under his mentor, Dr. Toledo. Toledo taught him a lot about running and operating a business so when he felt he was ready, Dino decided to go to the bank and take out a loan to open his own dental office.
“I said whatever they could do, I could do it too. I got some experience on how to run a business and got the courage to go for it.”
Dino found a private office in this beautiful city of Montebello and secured the lease. The rest was history. He even grew his business to a second location in Los Angeles that he sublets. His practice had been thriving until the pandemic came and threw a major curveball.
“Of course we got affected by COVID last year. We got slowed down a little bit.... Pretty much I’m surviving,” says Dino.
Although dentists remained open because they’re essential, Dino’s office took a hit. Patients who were understandably weary of catching COVID were cancelling appointments or not coming in at all. His office lost an average of 20-30% of sales over the course of this pandemic. Safety was also a huge concern for his staff and patients because of their work directly with the mouth. On top of the economic stress that Dino had to endure, he also had to deal with the fact that his work put him and his team in the front line of this deadly disease everyday.
“A lot of my colleagues shut down their office permanently not because of the slowing down economy but because they’re risking their lives.”
But Dino gathered up his courage and endured the dangers and unknowns because he genuinely loves helping people with their oral care. The Associate Dental Association along with the Center of Disease Control came up with stricter regulations which his office diligently follows. Oral aerosols cleansers, air filters, surface disinfectant spray and wipes, and more PPE are in constant use. Patients are taken one at a time and disinfected between while people accompanying them have to wait outside or in the car. Slowly, his office instilled confidence in their patients’ safety and they started to book more appointments.
Although the pandemic is nowhere near over, Dr. Dino is hopeful for the future and encourages other aspiring entrepreneurs to have the same mindset. When asked about the future, he recalls his determination when he first applied for the loan to start his practice and how he had hardly anything to his name. This is what ultimately drives Dr. Dino. He takes his fears and turns them into courage and remembers his ambition and practices gratitude.
“If you have the passion and you have the interest, you could do it no matter what happens. Not even the pandemic can stop me.”
Dr. Dino C. Hernandez, D.D.S. Inc. is located on 1014 W Beverly Blvd, Montebello, CA 90640 and can be reached by calling (323) 725-9999. For more information on this business please visit https://www.dinohernandezcosmeticdentistry.com/.
Dr. Kang from Bello Dental knew from a young age that he wanted to go into the medical field. In fact, in high school he had shadowed under a dentist and realized that it was his passion. He went to the University of Pacific in Northern California and completed the accelerated dentistry program in just seven years. After he graduated, he moved to Arizona for a year to do his residency. As someone who just got out of school, Dr. Kang wasn’t as confident going straight into work. He wanted to improve his skills so that he could be a better dentist. Once he finished, he moved to Los Angeles and worked under someone for three years.
“The wages for dentists haven't increased for the past 20-30 years. So the money I made working under someone, along with having to pay off my student loans just wasn’t enough.”
Dr. Kang decided that he needed to start his own practice. He had been familiar with East Los Angeles and found the perfect office the next town over. Located on a busy street in our lively city of Montebello, he dove right in and took the steps to starting a business. He has since learned so much from the community and has made a name for himself.
“I think Montebello is a great city to work in. It’s so diverse and there are so many different types of people.”
When the pandemic hit, Bello Dental stayed open but Dr. Kang temporarily opted out of doing routine checks and offered emergency services. His priority has always been about keeping his patients and staff safe so although his business took a hit, he felt it was best. After a month, he decided it was safe enough to offer regular services. It was a weird time, yet Kang found solace in helping people and staying busy. He also found that his patients found comfort in seeing him as well.
“I’ve had patients telling me the highlight of their week was coming to the dentist.”
Not only was Bello Dental helping with oral care, but they were giving their patients a sense of normalcy as well. Some patients were still hesitant about coming in due to the pandemic, but him and his staff always reassured them by taking extra precautions. Their approaches to sanitization include: using air filters, spraying each room with disinfectant, temperature checks, health checks, and documentation of every patient that comes in. It’s also helpful that Bello Dental’s office has individual rooms rather than a big open space.
When asked about the talks about dentists being called upon to help deliver vaccines, Dr. Kang replied that he is willing to help if they absolutely needed him because he has always been about helping others.
“I think it’s not the scope of a field I’m comfortable with, but if they really need people to do it, I would do it.”
Reflecting on his experience becoming a dentist and business owner, Dr. Kang believes that a positive attitude is key to success. Although he found his calling at a young age, not everyone is as clear cut and that is okay. But he urges anyone who is still on their way to finding their true calling to follow their gut and go for it.
His last piece of advice, “Once you find it, you just have to take the leap of faith and dive in. Try to keep a positive outlook and know that everything will always work out in the end.”
Bello Dental is located at 1013 W. Beverly Blvd. Montebello, CA 90640 and can be reached by calling (323) 530-0443. For more information on this business please visit https://www.bellodentistry.com/.
Dr. Ray Arjang from Ray Orthodontics immigrated from Iran to Los Angeles at the age of 4. He recalls growing up in a one bedroom apartment with his parents and older brother. His family used food stamps and he always got hand me downs from his older brother. Although it may seem like a rough childhood, Dr. Arjang said his parents always kept the family close and worked really hard to give him and his brother the best life possible. At a young age, his father already started calling him ‘Dr. A’ which encouraged him to pursue a career in healthcare.
“I always knew my education was my way out. Even though I didn’t have much, I never thought ‘Since I don’t have anything. I can’t be anything.’” he recalls. “My mindset was always, ‘I don’t have anything now but I’m going to have it when I’m older. I’m going to have a nice life and I’m going to help people.”
Dr. Arjang got accepted into the University of California Los Angeles for his undergrad and volunteered at different clinics to see what sector he wanted to pursue. He decided on orthodontics because he loved the continuous relationship with patients. He got accepted into the University of Southern California’s dental school and got a residency at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine.
After he finished his residency in 2014, he came back to LA and worked six days a week as an associate orthodontist, working in almost every city in Southern California. During his time as an associate, he knew he wanted to open his own practice. He began reading and researching on his own time. He would ask managers questions about how to run an office, read HR manuals, and even went Youtube and found free MBA courses to watch. After 3 years, Dr. Arjang knew he was ready and decided to open his office in the city of Montebello. He chose Montebello because he loved how diverse, well to-do, and easy going the people are. Dr. Arjang got straight to work and built his business from the ground up.
“It was just me, I had no patients. I had to start from nothing and thank God I was able to grow it just rolling up my sleeves and just jumping into it,” he shares.
It had been 3 years since the opening of his practice when COVID-19 swept the country. Thankfully, his business had not really suffered huge losses. He credits his team and patients for keeping safety as a priority. His office enforces strict safety protocols like taking temperatures, protective barriers between chairs, much more layers of PPE, and constant sanitizing protocols.
His office takes safety very seriously without compromising connection. He emphasized how important it is to uphold that personal relationship with his patients. Dr. Arjang prides himself on that ‘mom and pop’ experience so he makes sure that his business knows patients’ names and stays in touch with them outside of their appointments. He wants his patients to feel warm and cared for when leaving his office.
Dr. Arjang encourages those who are trying to start a business to do their research and prepare as much as possible. He advises those who want to go into dental care to “know what you’re comfortable with and then whatever you aren’t, keep practicing it so that you are comfortable at it. Go over everything with a fine tooth comb and just go for it.”
Ray Orthodontics is located at 415 W Beverly Blvd B, Montebello, CA 90640 and can be reached by calling (323) 597-1712 or visiting https://drrayortho.com/
Dr. Winslow from Whittier Palm Dental had always loved tinkering and building things. This is what sparked his interest in dentistry. He loved how he can fix things, get immediate results, and have a personal relationship with patients. He went to the University of California Berkeley for his undergrad and decided to volunteer at local dental clinics. During the course of two years volunteering, Dr. Winslow grew to love the art of dentistry. He applied to dental school and got accepted to the Kornberg School of Dentistry at Temple University in Philadelphia. He graduated in 2006 and went back to California to complete his residency in Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey.
After his residency, he went on to work at the East Valley Community Health Center in West Covina for eleven years. The East Valley Community Health Center is a public health center that serves low income families. This is where he found himself in a crash course of
“They didn’t have anywhere else to go as far as dental treatment, so in a sense, it pushed me to do everything because if they weren’t getting anything done with me, they weren’t getting anything done period.”
Dr. Winslow’s plan was to open up his own practice so after working in public health, he started looking at offices around Los Angeles. In 2017, he came across Whittier Palm Dental which was being sold by Dr. Hanson and found it as the perfect fit for him. He chose this office because it is a unique space and doesn’t look like an office. It’s warm, inviting, and feels more like a home. His younger brother who has owned his own practice since 2009 became his mentor for navigating the ins and outs of owning a dental office.
“He would tell me, ‘you really don’t know how it’s going to be until you get your own office.’ and he was one hundred percent true. Dentistry is 20% of it and 80% of it is the business side where you really have to learn how to manage staff, billing, and everything else that comes with it.”
Dr. Winslow recalled that during the early stages of running his business, he would make mistakes but that he always learned from them to be better. Along with his brother’s mentorship, he looked to both of his dental hygienists who had worked in that office for over ten years with Dr. Hanson. He says that the reason why so many of Dr. Hanson’s old patients took a chance on him, was because of their trust in his staff.
“My staff is fantastic. They’re a big part of why I love to come into work. They do a great job at keeping everything running smoothly and I really value their input.”
Their team had gotten into a good work flow and the practice was really taking off until the pandemic hit. Many people were rightfully fearful of making their appointments so it slowed things down significantly. His team made sure to follow safety protocols like sanitizing areas, wearing extra PPE, and only allowing patients in the office. Although these procedures made it hard for his team to connect with patients, they did their best to make them feel safe and important. Dr. Winslow says that taking the time to have personable conversations with patients was the best way to earn their trust. Now that time has passed since the beginning of the pandemic, he believes that his office is back on the right track even though he is still concerned about the future.
“You kind of take it day by day and month by month. I still get cancellations in the schedule because of COVID so it really can put a stress on things but we do our best.”
Although the end is still a ways away, Dr. Winslow believes that compassion and helping each other is how we will get through this pandemic. He advises anyone who is looking to start their own practice to look at this as a learning opportunity. This pandemic has forced dentists and business owners alike how to prioritize what they need to do to achieve their end goal.
“We’re all struggling but we’re not alone. I know that owning a business, it may seem like you’re on an island and you’re just on your own. All we can do is take it day by day, share resources, look to the Chamber for information, and share a helping hand.”
Whittier Palm Dental is located at 1900 W Whittier Blvd, Montebello, CA 90640 and can be reached by calling (323) 721-7153 or visiting https://www.whittierpalmdental.com/contact-us
Dr. Shahab Parsa of LA Braces (Hyman Orthodontics) only recently was brought on board by Dr. Hyman but is transitioning to take over the practice. He shared a little bit of background on the history of the founding Hyman family as well as some of his own background. Hyman Ortho has been in business for 60 years. This family owned business was passed down from one generation to the other as Dr. Hyman’s father was the original founder of the practice. 32 years ago, Dr. Hyman took over the practice and grew it to what it is today.
Dr. Parsa who was originally from Iran, immigrated to the U.S. at 17 years old. His journey to being an orthodontist began with his strong interest in math and engineering. As he looked into different paths, he knew that he wanted to work in a field that builds relationships with people. Dentistry originally peaked his interest and he started looking into different types of practices and specialties. He found that orthodontics was the choice for him.
“We get to create massive changes in patients’ self-perception of their smile. There’s a huge change in their self-confidence levels and that’s very rewarding to see.”
Dr. Parsa loves the fact that he could make people feel better about themselves. He also appreciates the technical aspects of orthodontic treatments. Because orthodontists use math and engineering skills along with problem solving, he knew that this is something he would enjoy doing for the rest of his life.
He got his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Bioengineering from the University of California San Diego, went on to dental school at University of California San Francisco before finally getting his Master’s in Craniofacial Biology and Certificate in Orthodontics from the University of Illinois Chicago. After he graduated and completed his residency, he moved back to LA to be closer to his family. It was then that he was introduced to Dr. Hyman.
Meeting Dr. Hyman was either of pure chance or luck according to Dr. Parsa. He had heard about the practice because of how successful it was.
“I knew of Dr. Hymen, he didn’t know of me” he chuckled. “I had contacts who knew him. He expressed to them he was interested in potentially finding a long term person as a replacement. They introduced us and by luck it worked out.”
Dr. Hyman brought him on over eight months ago and since then, it has been nothing but a journey of learning and growing. Dr. Hyman, his wife Nancy, and the team took Dr. Parsa under their wings and taught him all about the different systems and practices of the office. Dr. Parsa has since met most of their patients and found his workflow. After 6 months of studying, training, and finding his managerial style, they began the transition.
Dr. Parsa credits the office team of 15 employees along with Dr. Hyman and his wife Nancy for facilitating a smooth transition. One of his employees has been with the practice for over 40 years, working under both Dr. Hyman and his father. A couple of other employees have been with the practice for over a decade. Their team prides themselves on being a strong and solid team. They have weekly meetings to see how they can improve and hold each other accountable.
“Our mission statement is: To serve our patients and serve each other.”
Everyone understands their importance and that’s how they have great team morale. Dr. Parsa also shared that there has always been a lot of effort put into hiring and training new team members, himself included, because having a strong team is key to a good business.
When the pandemic originally hit Los Angeles March of 2020, Dr. Parsa was not yet there. It wasn’t until a couple months later in June that he was brought on. He shared some of the challenges that they had to face like team members and patients possibly being exposed and the restrictions of the amount of patients they could take at a time. But their office takes safety very seriously so they have made patients do additional rinses and wait outside. They’ve also made sure to constantly disinfect the office to negate transmission of the virus.
“The rest of the team are stepping up and getting through it. Employees and patients understand that things are different right now and even though things are changing day by day, we deal with the challenges as they come.”
Dr. Parsa is cautiously optimistic about the future. He believes that we are creeping our way back to normalcy and shared how most of his clinic team has gotten vaccinated. Although he got into this business during an abating pandemic, he has not let it slow him down.
He is currently working on rebranding the practice and developing as an orthodontist and business owner. He has been working long hours almost every day to make sure that everything is taken care of once the transition period ends. Dr. Parsa says he still has quite a long road ahead of him but advises those who aspire to start their own business, to make sure they consider the circumstances and the options in front of them.
“Just know that it isn’t going to be easy and you can’t be reckless about it. It takes a lot of commitment and learning. But it’s definitely so rewarding if your heart's in it.”
His last piece of advice for entrepreneurs is to read books. Even if it’s just listening to audiobooks like him, reading books is important for anyone starting a business. Reading is how he went from an orthodontist to a business owner.
“It doesn’t replace real world experience, but it’s definitely easier to start marketing when you’ve read 3 books about it than not knowing anything about it.”
LA Braces (Hyman Orthodontics) is located at 3533 W. Beverly Blvd. Montebello, CA 90640 and can be reached by calling (323) 726-8300 or visiting https://www.hymanortho.com/.