Let’s celebrate the incredible Asian American Pacific Islander dentists who light up the world of oral healthcare! Your dedication, expertise, and compassion not only bring brighter smiles but also inspire countless others in the profession.



May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which celebrates the contributions and impact of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. - a demographic that has grown over 137 percent in Texas alone over the last two decades!

As a proud Vietnamese American and equally proud Past President of the Texas Dental Association (TDA), I'm excited to "kick off" this month's TDA's Campaign highlighting just a few AAPI TDA members as they share their personal stories and unique perspectives. Stay tuned for inspiring stories from our AAPI dental community!

-- Duc "Duke" M. Ho, DDS FAGD

Dr. Laji James, is not only the first Asian Indian president of the Greater Houston Dental Society, but he is also one of two Indian Americans on the TDA Board of Directors.

Click HERE to learn about his journey to America and the importance of diversity and cultural traditions.

-- Laji J James, DDS

Shailee Gupta, DDS, MPH

Dr. Shailee Gupta is a general/public health dentist from Austin, Texas and has been practicing dentistry for 20 years. She is the Director of Dental Programs for the St. David’s Foundation Dental Program, the largest charity based mobile dental program in the country. 

Prior to joining the Foundation in 2006, Dr. Gupta worked in private, public health, and group practices in Houston, Texas and Seattle, Washington. She was also a part-time faculty member at dental assisting schools in Seattle, where she taught and supervised dental assistants in training.
Dr. Gupta holds a Doctor of Dental Surgery from the University of Texas Dental Branch at Houston, a Masters in Public Health from Creighton University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Microbiology from the University of Texas at Austin.

She is currently Past-President of the Capital Area Dental Society, serves on the Texas Dental Association’s Board of Directors and represented Texas as Chair of the American Dental Association’s Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention in 2022. She is an alumnus of the ADA’s Institute for Diversity in Leadership Program and served on the ADA’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee for 2 years. On the local level, Dr. Gupta is an alumnus of the Leadership Austin Program and in 2015 was nominated for an Austin Under 40 Award in the category of Medicine, Science and Healthcare. Her passions include diversity initiatives and advocating for oral health policies and access to care challenges. Her husband is a private practice dentist in Pflugerville, Texas and they have a 18 year old daughter and 14 year old son. 

Shailee Gupta, DDS, MPH
Director of Dental Programs
St. David’s Foundation
1303 San Antonio Street, Suite 500
Austin, TX 78701
(512) 879-6225

What is it like to be an Asian-American in dentistry?

Growing up, I didn’t appreciate my Asian-American roots. I just knew I was different. I learned to embrace who I was as a young adult and that those differences were what made me unique. Being Asian-American in dentistry helps me to identify and understand perspectives and cultural differences in my patients so I can apply that in the education and dental care I am providing.

Why is it important to have a diverse and inclusive profession?  
As our population’s diversity evolves, our profession needs to follow. Patients tend to feel more comfortable with healthcare professionals that share similar values and beliefs. A diverse and inclusive representation in the dental team will enhance the patient experience and connection to the team thus leading to improved oral health outcomes and a reduction in health disparities.

What advice would you give to the next generation of AAPI dentists?
My advice to our next generation of AAPI dentists is that not all opportunities will land in your hands!  Seek out ways to grow and thrive in dentistry and don’t be intimidated to go after your goals and aspirations with initiative and most importantly confidence!

What cultural traditions are important to you?
My family and I love celebrating Diwali! The festivities, decor, food and gatherings with family and friends is always so enlightening. Diwali also celebrates the epic stories I heard growing up and brings forward the spirit of positivity and well-being.

-- Shailee Gupta, DDS, MPH

What advice they would give to the next generation of AAPI dentists? 

 Get involved. The landscape of dentistry has been changing quite a bit the last few decades. As of 2020, Asian dental workers are comprised of 18% of the total dental workforce according to a survey conducted by the American Dental Association Health Policy Institute. However, this percentage does not reflect the percentage of AAPI in leadership seats. Many Asian cultures teach their young to be hard workers and not cause trouble in the workforce. This allows for a generation of Asian Americans who don’t hold as many leadership positions as other minority counterparts. As a young AAPI dentist, I know how intimidating it can be to get involved with organized dentistry, especially when there are not not similar people in positions of leadership. I have been fortunate enough to have many AAPI colleagues that have helped mentor and pave the way for myself and others like me. It is as easy as showing up to your local component meetings and seeing if there is an opening for a committee you are interested in. Get involved in any way, shape, or form. I promise you won’t regret it! You’ll meet so many amazing people and forge memorable, lasting friendships. Your profession will thank you!

-- Wendy Steger, DDS

What does AAPI heritage month mean to you?

AAPI Heritage Month was established to celebrate the many contributions that Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans made to this country.  As May comes to an end, I have reflected upon what this month means to me as a first-generation Asian American.  

My parents were both born in the Philippines, but found their way to the United States in search of greater opportunity.  I am so grateful for the sacrifices my parents have made; I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to start over in a completely new country, halfway around the world.  My parents taught my brother and me that with hard work and honesty, anything is possible and no dream is too big.  The greatest lesson my parents taught us is that family always comes first.  They are a living testament to this through all the quiet sacrifices they have and continue to make for our family.  My parents inspire me through all they have done to provide our family with the gift of opportunity. 

 Growing up, I realized that my upbringing was different from my peers who had parents who were natural American citizens. It was uncomfortable to feel unalike through dissimilarities in customs, traditions, and foods.  I had the internal conflict of feeling different from my American peers, while also feeling different from my family and friends in the Philippines—the contradictory struggle of not feeling “American enough,” while also not feeling “Filipino enough.”  I found connections through my friends who were also children of immigrants, who shared this experience.  I gained a greater appreciation for my Filipino culture and heritage when I realized that our differences are what makes our country special.  I am thankful for my non-traditional American upbringing—it taught me that “different” does not mean “bad” or “less than,” but rather “unique.”

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month has been a great reminder to appreciate all the things about my Filipino heritage that I have to be grateful for.  Learning to embrace my cultural differences hasn’t always been a linear journey; however, it has taught me the importance of diversity and inclusivity. Differences, whether that be in experience, culture, gender or race make any group successful because these all offer a variety of perspectives among individuals.  As an Asian female in dentistry, I hope to set an impactful example for future generations of AAPI dentists. 

 -- Gabrielle Dizon, DDS