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UW to honor Dentistry faculty member for public service

Dr. Theresa Cheng, a clinical assistant professor of periodontics at the School of Dentistry, will receive a 2019 Award of Excellence from the University of Washington for outstanding public service.

Dr. Theresa Cheng with one of her veteran patients
Dr. Theresa Cheng with one of her veteran patients

Dr. Cheng, whose work in the community has included leading a volunteer organization connecting low-income veterans with dental care, will be honored with the other recipients on June 13 at a ceremony at the UW’s Meany Hall. The annual awards recognize achievements in teaching, mentoring, public service, and staff support.

Dr. Cheng launched Everyone for Veterans in 2008 after reading a news account of a local Iraq veteran who had been seriously wounded by an improvised explosive device. She initially sought to provide free dental care to veterans’ spouses or mothers, but expanded her efforts after learning that the Veterans Administration does not provide dental care to most veterans.

Today her organization boasts nearly 300 dentists along with specialists and dental labs across the United States who provide volunteer services to low-income veterans. Some of these veterans served as long ago as World War II.

“Besides dental work, the trust, caring and social aspects that we provide is a powerful healing factor to these veterans,” Dr. Cheng told the School of Dentistry’s Dental Alumni News magazine in 2014. “Oftentimes, they tell us that this restores their faith in humanity.” Dr. Cheng is a 1985 graduate of the school’s periodontics residency program.

Dr. Cheng has also been a board member with Washington Women in Need, a Kirkland-based nonprofit organization that helps low-income women by providing financial assistance for health care and education. Many of these women are victims of domestic violence, and Dr. Cheng recruited volunteer dentists to help them in addition to her work in fundraising, strategic planning, and program evaluation for the agency.

Dr. Cheng’s work in the community was recognized by the Washington State Dental Association, which named her one of two WSDA Citizens of the Year in 1998. That year, the city of Issaquah proclaimed January 20 as Dr. Theresa Cheng Day in honor of her volunteer work. For her work with veterans, she received the 2017 Washington State Outstanding Service to Veterans Superior Award from the Governor’s Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee.