Home Study Abroad Tri-Cities couple open new dental clinic, look to give back

Tri-Cities couple open new dental clinic, look to give back

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Tri-Cities couple open new dental clinic, look to give back

José Mendoza learned the value of hard work and education when he was young, and now he and his wife Armani want to help other young people in Tri-Cities follow their dreams.

The Mendozas met in dental school at the University of Washington School of Dentistry, and credit their success to having found mentors and help when they needed it most. They recently opened Monarch Dental Health in Pasco and hope to pay that help forward.

“There’s a lot of benefit in coming back and planting seeds. There are people like me and my friends who can do this, and the community benefits,” José said.

Road to success

José Mendoza is a member of the first graduating class of Chiawana High School. He said the school gave him the opportunity to reach further than he had thought possible.

His father wanted him to understand the value of education, so when Mendoza was younger he took him to work and let him see first hand how hard it was working seasonal field jobs.

His dad had only a third-grade education, but knew his son could accomplish anything.

Mendoza said his father told him, “I can’t convince you to stay in school, but if you see how difficult this is, you can choose for yourself.”

That lesson stuck with him.

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Armani and José Mendoza are the husband and wife team behind Monarch Dental Health, a new Tri-Cities dental practice in Pasco. José grew up in Pasco and earned the Gates Scholarship, which he says helped open doors for him that eventually led to dental school. Jennifer King jking@tricityherald.com

When he got to high school, Mendoza enrolled in the Running Start program where he was able to complete his first two years of college before graduating. He already knew exactly what he wanted to do. He was determined to go to dental school, and eventually come back to the Tri-Cities to help others.

“This is a great place to live, invest in and be part of it. This is home, I love this place,” he told the Herald. “I’ve been other places, but the teachers here invested in me, the schools invested in me. For me to come back and be a member of this community is really special to me.”

His inspiration for becoming a dentist is also thanks to formal memories. Mendoza said he remembers trips to Mexico from his childhood, not for family visits though, for medical and dental care.

He said that being new to a community, not knowing where to find Spanish-language resources and limited access to affordable care in the US meant that his family, and many other Latinos like them, opted to hold off on medical and dental care until they could go to Mexico where it was more affordable.

“We would pack up and leave at three or four in the morning, we would arrive days later,” he said. “I had my books and I had my homework to do in the car. I would see all the terrain and all the landscapes and people. It really opened my eyes.”

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Monarch Dental Health is located in Pasco at 8921 Sandifur Parkway in Building A, Suite 102 and is open Tuesday through Friday from 7 am to 4 pm Jennifer King jking@tricityherald.com

Mendoza said he didn’t think much of it when he was young, but as he got older he realized that his father and relatives shouldn’t have to leave the country for things like medical care.

“I realized that if I can make a resource here, where people don’t have to go so far, I think that would really benefit the community,” he said.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, as many as 1 million Americans traveled to Mexico each year for medical and dental care, according to a 2019 Newsweek article about medical tourism.

In high school, Mendoza applied for the Gates Millennium Scholarship at the urging of his mentors. The scholarship, established by a $1 billion grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 1999, is a full-ride scholarship.

He said that process was more difficult than applying to schools, and it took a lot of work and feedback to finish the application. It was worth it though when he received the scholarship.

He graduated from the University of Washington two years later and applied for dental school, only to find out that the scholarship wouldn’t cover it.

While the scholarship is renewable for graduate school in certain fields, dentistry was not one of them. That wasn’t enough to stop him though.

Mendoza said he made the decision to do whatever it took, applied for student loans and kept moving forward.

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Drs. Armani and José Mendoza decided to move back to the Tri-Cities and open a dental practice in Pasco in order to pay it forward to the community that helped José earn his degrees in dentistry. Jennifer King jking@tricityherald.com

Family ties

José and Armani, who is from Naches, met during their interviews for dental school. She jokes that he didn’t remember her, but once classes began they fell in love.

“We met our first year, we got married our second year, we had our daughter our third and graduated our fourth,” Armani said. “We had a lot of help from the family.”

Family is at the center of everything they do, so while working as dentists in other communities, they began planning their next step — opening their own clinic closer to their families.

“We had two more kids in the meantime. This has very much been a family effort for sure. It’s been an adventure,” she said. “It wouldn’t have been possible without so much support from our parents and family.”

As they were planning their clinic and deciding on a name for it, Armani said they saw a parallel between the migration of the Monarch butterfly, and the trips José’s family made as a child.

“We thought there were parallels, he spent many seasons traveling back and forth,” she said. “And the way a butterfly can transform and a smile can transform.”

Every year the Monarch butterfly migrates up to 3,000 miles from the northern US and Canada to Mexico to roost for the winter.

Inspiring others

They said opening the clinic means a great deal for not only their family, but the community itself.

José Mendoza hopes that young people can see that if a local graduate who didn’t have much growing up can make it, so can they.

They’re also working to ensure their own children see the value of hard work and community.

“I go through days where I’m still very appreciative of everything that’s happening, but it’s difficult. The life I have now is way more comfortable than when I was a kid,” he said. “I wonder, because my struggles made me persevere, how am I inspiring my kids?”

He said that like his own father did, he hopes to inspire his own children as they spend time with their parents at work.

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Drs. Armani and José Mendoza of Monarch Dental Health in Pasco say they hope their new practice is inviting and becomes a resource for community members and students alike. Jennifer King jking@tricityherald.com

“We try to teach them to be respectful and value relationships. Having all come full circle, it’s just another testament for my kids and relatives, to work hard, set your goals and be determined to continue,” he said. “Success is nice, but more than anything it’s very symbolic for our family because it tells us that we can do it.”

Community resource

With Monarch Dental Health, they hope to build a resource that the community feels comfortable in, even if they have limited experience going to the dentist.

“I think one of the biggest things we wanted to bring is just a judgment-free zone. We wanted it to feel more relaxing, maybe less like a dental clinic,” Armani Mendoza said. “We want patients to be comfortable enough to come and express their goals and desires.”

The Mendozas also want to be able to offer a variety of services under one roof, so other families don’t have to spend hours in the car traveling to appointments.

Monarch offers bio-compatible dentistry, which takes a holistic look at the patient beyond just the teeth, diagnostic and preventive care, Invisalign, botox, root canal and other services.

The Mendozas hope that by speaking to students, and inviting them to shadow in their clinic, they can inspire young people in the Tri-Cities to follow their dreams. They also hope the students see the value in returning to their own communities once they finish college.

“It’s a symbolic place for our community because it is a healthcare facility, and we don’t see a lot of professionals coming back to establish businesses,” José Mendoza said. “We’re here for students who want to come do shadowing and learn about the experience and the journey.”

They want students to see that setbacks and difficulties along the way don’t have to mean failure.

“It takes a lot of work, but it’s not work that I’ve done all by myself. It’s work that my teachers have invested in me, that my parents have done, that my mentors have,” José Mendoza said.

“Use your resources, then you can be a resource for someone else. Set your goal and strive for it. There are resources out there, but more than anything, there are people that will invest in you.”

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Cory is an award-winning investigative reporter. He joined the Tri-City Herald in Dec. 2021 as an Editor/Reporter covering housing and development. His past work can be found in the Tyler Morning Telegraph and other Texas newspapers. He was a 2019-20 Education Writers Association Fellow, and has been featured on The Murder Tapes, Grave Mysteries and Crime Watch Daily with Chris Hansen.

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