David Wong is a dentist who specializes in periodontology and dental implant surgery. He sat down with the Stuttering Foundation to discuss his many life and career successes and a lifelong journey with stuttering.
SFA: Do you remember when you first began to stutter?
DAVID: My parents remembered I did not start speaking until the age of 4. When I did speak, my parents recalled my words weren’t coherent and consisted of many repetitions. Sometimes my words just never came out. I have always remembered stuttering throughout my life.
Does it run in your family? Who else stutters?
Nobody in my immediate family stutters. However, my mother’s cousin stutters.
Did you seek treatment? Did it help?
During 1st grade, a speech pathologist informed my parents I would grow out of my stuttering. However, that was not the case. During dental school, we started seeing patients and it wasn’t a small task for a stutterer. I went to see a speech pathologist to seek help. The therapy helped me communicate effectively with confidence. No one therapy was a magic pill; it was a realized foundation to build on. Building towards fluency was essential. However, it was working through the psychological blocks that allowed me to be free and myself.
Tell us about your experience with stuttering as a child.
No words can describe the amount of frustration and anxiety every day, especially during school. My biggest fear was speaking in front of the class, not knowing how my classmates would react. The bigger the audience, the more severe my speech impediments became. As a child, I would succumb to talking as little as I can. This way no one would realize my speech issues, and I always find creative ways to avoid speaking. Now looking back, I should have used my creativity and effort in confronting my fears of speaking in public, because I had plenty to say!
Has your stuttering gotten worse or better since you were younger? How?
My stuttering has gotten better as I got older. It took many years of practice overcoming speech blocks, and psychological blocks as well. During college and dental school, I would have sleepless nights sweating, preparing not only for the work itself but also mentally preparing to talk and strategize. Now I frequently give lectures, talk in meetings, and most people can’t tell I stutter. I’ve learned over the years building stamina and confidence are important.
How did it affect you growing up?
Growing up, I always wondered why I wasn’t as fluent as the rest of the kids. There was a strong feeling of desire to be normal. That led me to negative feelings like being envious. I would admire the people around me that had impeccable articulation, which led to an inner feeling of being envious. Often during arguments and heated debates my stuttering would get worse. People would hang up the phone when they don’t realize I’m still on the line trying to fight through a stammering block. Another common reaction was a giggle when they thought I forgot what my name was. Common routines we take for granted were challenging. In those moments I felt inferior and lonely. My self-esteem has never been any lower.
How does stuttering affect you in your career?
Being a dentist requires effective communication to inform patients of their oral health status and needs. As a stutterer, this can be challenging and difficult. However, I became more comfortable with my speech impediment with patients. Slowly it became who I am. Surprisingly it became a way to connect with my patients to share my side of the story. Being open and acknowledging my speech impediments helped me build trust and genuineness.
How is your stuttering today? What do you do to control or manage it, if anything?
I slowly adapted to avoid certain words and find a replacement word quicker. I use hand motions to express my meanings which helps with articulation. Another technique my therapist taught me was to connect multiple words in one phrase, similar to singing a song. Singing comes from the diaphragm with constant flow of air. Funny how we would rather sing a song than talk in public! People say repetition is success. For me my hardest word to articulate is my name David! Imagine the number of times we’ve had to introduce ourselves. If I practice articulating my name for one day nothing may change. Practicing for two days, nothing will change either. After three, four, or five days I will still stutter. However, I have my entire life to improve, and there’s no timeline!
What are the biggest challenges stuttering has presented to you?
Fear, anxiety and emotional defeat. Now looking back, my biggest challenge wasn’t my stutter but the anticipation of the unknown and overcoming that emotion of embarrassment and anxiety.
What is your greatest accomplishment with regard to stuttering?
Not only being heard but people wanting to hear me speak despite my stuttering. Now being a dental surgeon, it’s much easier to voice my opinion but it wasn’t that way before.
Based upon your experiences, what would you like to tell children who stutter?
Be loud and it’s also ok to be shy! Embrace who you are and share it with the world. You can accomplish anything you want. It has been shown that people who stutter are generally overachievers. Never be afraid to reset and get rid of all the negativity in your life. Always, always seek help: speech therapy, counseling, mental health, and/or mentorship.
Based upon your experiences, what would you tell parents of children who stutter?
Give them as much love and support as you can. Give the children time, be patient with them. Take them to therapy early and be in there with them. Help your children embrace the challenge and become the solution and role models for others. Although there is no cure, it does not hinder their success and choices in life.
What else should we know?
During my dental training, I had the opportunity to intern in Dr. Dennis Drayna’s research at the National Institutes of Health. Through genetic sequencing and mapping techniques, we are able to identify genetic variation /mutation at the molecular components. The disruption of intracellular trafficking can lead to mistranslated protein necessary for the human communication system. Though we made progress, further research and funding are important for better understanding and future treatments. I want to thank my family and friends/mentors that have been on this journey with me. I owe my success to their commitment, encouragement, and belief in me.
I grew up in Lewisville, Texas. I now live in North Dallas.
I am a Dentist specializing in Periodontology and Dental Implant Surgery.
My family lived in New York City in my early years then moved to Texas. We’ve resided in Texas for over 20 years. My father passed a few years back. I have a younger sister and she now lives in California.
Hobbies, Interests, Passions:
Hiking, Sports including Tennis and Basketball, Traveling.
My aspiration to be a dentist and ultimately a periodontist began in high school. A dental accident at a young age was followed by many dental visits. Having gone through multiple dental procedures at a young age was frustrating. My frequent visits to the dental office inspired my interest in dentistry and ultimately specializing in periodontics. My passion took me through undergraduate education, dental school, then residency training before becoming a periodontist and dental implant surgeon. I am board certified by the American Board of Periodontology.
From the Spring 2022 Magazine