Dr. Dennis Hartlieb

Interview with Dr. Tracey Nguyen

About the Sharecast Interview

How much do you know about airway and how it relates to dentistry? In today's Sharecast episode, your host Dr. Dennis Hartlieb talks with Dr. Tracey Nguyen, who shares about her journey with continuing education and how she got to where she is today. 

In the episode, Dr. Nguyen shares about the importance of mentorship, how much she has grown because of programs like the AACD accreditation journey, and how her understanding of airway enlightens her comprehensive dentistry approach. She gives advice to young dentists and shares ways to deepen our dental practice through education and mentorship.  

Meet Dr. Tracey Nguyen

From the Sleep and Airway Group site

"Dr. Tracey Nguyen maintains a private practice 30 minutes outside of Washington, DC, in Northern Virginia. She is accredited by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry and a fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry.

"On top of being trained by some of the best leaders in dentistry, she continued her training at the Kois Center in Seattle, Washington. In 2016, she was honored with Top 25 Women in Dentistry. Dr. Tracey Nguyen serves as a visiting faculty at Spear Education for the Airway Prosthodontics Workshop. As a member of the Wellness Dentistry Network, her practice is heavily based on integrating overall health, bridging the gap with medicine and dentistry. 

"Recently she created the Sleep and Airway group in Northern Virginia, an Interdisciplinary group made of sleep physicians, eats, allergerist, dentists, and myofunctional therapists. They focus on screening, diagnosing and treating children and adults with Sleep Disorder Breathing."

Episode Highlights


Pathway to Dentistry as a Profession

In the interview, Dr. Tracey Nguyen shares about her experiences early on with dentistry and how she became interested in it as a profession. 

As Tracey shares, it wasn't until college that she developed an interest in dentistry. After exploring classes related to several different career paths, Tracey started working as a dental assistant while still in college, and that experience really shaped her professional life. 

After completing dental school, Dr. Nguyen worked with the practice where she'd been a dental assistant. She loved the practice and the mentorship that she received, but when it came time to grow professionally, she branched out to own her own practice.

Owning a Practice and Transitioning to Complex Dentistry

Dr. Nguyen shares what the first couple of years were like for her in practice and how the death of her father and her resulting grief served as a catalyst for her to take action to advance in her career. 

When becoming a partner at the practice she joined after dental school was not an option, Tracey decided to seek out an opportunity to own her own practice. Once making that decision, an opportunity arose and things moved quickly. 

The Decision to Start a Practice

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Dr. Nguyen shares about how grieving for her father after his death led her to a moment of professional clarity, and she started her own practice.

Navigating Insurance and Becoming a Fee for Service Practice

Dr. Nguyen shares her journey of transitioning from a practice that took all kinds of insurance to buying a practice that took only Delta and MetLife. Tracey talks about keeping those insurance policies the same at first so that patients didn't have to adjust to more changes. 

However, over time the practice got down to only accepting Delta, which they maintained for several years. For Tracey, after getting accredited with the AACD, it really came down to a specific restorative case that was a very large case for a patient with Delta insurance. She shares about what that looked like for a patient with insurance and why that wasn't feasible for their practice. 

Listen in to hear Tracey share about how and why they became a fee for service practice after originally accepting insurance. 

Accreditation with the AACD

Dr. Tracey Nguyen shares about her experiences and what led her to becoming accredited with the AACD.

Tracey shares, "That's the reason why I went to the AACD was because I realized that I was not good at composites. And then once I got good at composites and good at these veneers and bondings, I thought I was pretty good.

"But in the exam, what was really interesting was Dr. Betsy Bateman questioned me. She brought it back to the diagnosis, asking, 'Why did you even do this?'

"And so it's funny, because I was like, 'Why are we talking about diagnosis? Can we talk about the final product?' 

"And then it made me realize, I was like, crap, I think I've just been very lucky with some of these cases not breaking... I have not been practicing long enough to see my true failures yet."

Tracey shares, "That was really a light bulb to me. And then actually, that's why I started my journey at Kois."

Becoming a Better Dentist through Continuing Education

Dr. Nguyen shares about her journey with continuing education. She shares about how her view toward continuing education changed as she began to see the value of more comprehensive courses rather than grabbing short mini courses a little at a time. 

Tracey also shares about how her journey with continuing education led her to meeting Dr. Jeff Rouse, which is when her airway journey really began.

To hear Dr. Rouse's interview on the Sharecast, check out part 1 and part 2 of Dr. Hartlieb's discussion with Jeff.

Advice to Young Dentists: Find a Mentor

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As Tracey shares in this clip, she advises young dentists to find a practice that includes mentorship and to get involved in continuing education right away so that you get the support you need to succeed. 

The Pathway to Airway and Complex Dentistry

Dr. Nguyen shares about how seeing Dr. Rouse speak really opened up her eyes to the role of airway in comprehensive dentistry.

When talking about how she became interested in sleep dentistry, Tracey shares, "It was really it was more about understanding the impact of my dentistry. And the biggest impact is with children. And so when I came back after Jeff's lecture, I [started to see it]. It's so funny, it's like, once you see it, you start to realize all the cases that you missed. And so as I saw more cases, and as my patient started coming in with these issues, I'm thinking, 'How did I miss that?' Well, I wasn't really looking." 

How to Manage Airway Issues with Patients

Dr. Nguyen talks about how understanding airway impacts her practice. 

 She shares, "I think that what I'm seeing now, and what I hope to see in the future, is that dentists really recognize the impact of what we do, that the impact of restorative goes beyond the mouth.

What Jeff will say is, it can either impact the airway in a positive way, a negative way, or a neutral way, but you have to understand the three differences. Then you can make that decision on what you want to do. If you don't understand the three differences and something comes back then you should evaluate even further. Was it really your dentistry that failed? Or did you just not diagnose a risk?  

"I think that's where airway dentistry is about. I don't do anything different than what I do. From a restorative standpoint, I just look at it differently.

"Am I constricting the envelope? Is this constricted? Why is there a constricted envelope? Why is the patient breaking their teeth?

"So the whole question of the why is really important. I focus a lot on that medical history. You know, the apnea, the heart issues now for women, the depression, anxiety, you know, snoring... There are so many medical conditions that have some correlation to airway.

"Now, I'm not saying dentistry is going to fix everything. But I sure want to understand it enough that I don't make it worse."

Dr. Nguyen also talks in depth about how she discusses topics like airway with her patients. Listen in to hear more of her thoughts about how she approaches that topic.

How to Start An Airway Journey as a Dentist

When Dennis asks Tracey what dentists who are looking to deepen their understanding of airway should do, she gives some suggestions. 

Dr. Nguyen shares that a good first step is to learn what airway dentistry is. She recommends starting by learning from Dr. Jeff Rouse: "he doesn't overcomplicate it, he makes it very simple for the dentist, he hones it into dentistry."

Tracey shares that once dentists get that foundation, you can decide how far you want to go with airway. She mentions that Dr. Rebecca Bockow has hands-on orthodontic courses. (To listen to or watch Dr. Harlieb's Sharecast episode with Dr. Bockow, click here.)

Tracey has ASAP Pathways, which is a pediatric online program. Programs like Kois and Spear are introducing more airway components into their courses. 

Dr. Nguyen shares, "I feel that dentists, just like with our patients, they're going to come to you when they're ready. And I think that's the best thing.

"When I look at myself and my growth, it's like, I took a different journey when I had self realization that I didn't know something, or when I questioned what I was doing.

"And when you start questioning what you are doing, that's a good thing.

"That's where the growth is."

Considering Airway in Restorative Cases

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As Dr. Nguyen shares in this clip, considering airway issues is an important part of treatment planning and assessing risks.

Dennis Hartlieb, DDS, AAACD

DOT Founder

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