Ballan Tuck, DDS ’96 : Mentored by dentists, now lifting others
Rarely are dentists’ offices high on the list of places that children want to hang out. But from an early age, Ballan Tuck discovered a second home at dentists’ offices, where he found meaning and mentorship – and a good place to earn a few dollars.
“Four of my closest friends’ fathers were dentists,” Dr. Tuck says. “So I had early exposure to the dental profession when I was 6, 7, 8 years old. We’d actually go into the dental offices and clean them and organize them for our arcade and 7-Eleven money.”
“I was blessed to have a group of faculty members who took me under their wings, advised me, gave me tough love when I needed it, helped me survive,” he says. “I try to give back now what they gave to me.”
Persevering and Finding Purpose
Born in San Francisco, Dr. Tuck was adopted when he was six months old and taken home to Santa Cruz, though his parents soon divorced.
His adoptive mother was a nurse, but it was the dental profession that drew him in, largely due to “all those wonderful men I looked up to and admired.”
Most important was his family dentist, John Stenovich, DDS, an essential mentor and father figure, who convinced him to go into dentistry and modeled decency and generosity.
“He was a dentist, but first and foremost, he was a person, and he connected with every person that walked into his office,” Dr. Tuck says. “He worked on everyone from college presidents to migrant farm workers, and he treated everybody with the same dignity and respect and care. That’s what I strive to do.”
Dr. Tuck volunteered in Dr. Stenovich’s office as a child, lived behind his house in an apartment while an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz, worked alongside him as both dentist and teacher early in his career, and ended up buying his practice in Aptos, near Santa Cruz. He took to heart the dedication to service that Dr. Stenovich and the other dentists in his life demonstrated, mentoring and volunteering over subsequent decades, including at his alma mater, UCSF.
“I saw how these dentists gave back to people in their communities,” he says. “Early on, that instilled in me the importance and significance of giving back to my community.”
Although he was raised in an affluent neighborhood, he faced racism from a young age as the only Black student in his classes and sports teams. “People went out of their way to remind me that I was different,” Dr. Tuck says. “I remember how terrible that made me feel, and I was determined to do whatever I could to prevent another person from feeling that isolation and resentment.”
He shares these experiences with his students to inspire them in overcoming obstacles. “They’re quite surprised when I tell them all I’ve been through,” he says.
Because of his experiences, he particularly seeks out mentees among Black and Latinx students.
“There’s such a shortage in the health professions,” he says, “so although I’m a mentor for many different groups, my focus is on the underrepresented ones who have the biggest challenges facing them.”
Dr. Tuck’s volunteer work has included service on the boards of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Cruz County, the Regional Occupational Programs Dental Assisting Program, and the Dientes Community Dental clinic. He’s also been an adviser to the Pre-Dental Society at UC Santa Cruz and mentored many dental professionals.
A Meaningful Move
Wanting to expand his reach, Dr. Tuck sold his private practice in 2012 to return to the Bay Area. He now has a private practice in Piedmont and lives in Alameda.
This move would prove to be as important personally as it was professionally.
Three days after relocating, on a blind date set up by mutual friends, he met Kelly, the woman he would soon marry.
In the Bay Area, Dr. Tuck has served as president of the Alameda County Dental Society, as a mentor in a local predental high school program, and on the board of the UCSF Dental Alumni Association. He cherishes UCSF for the challenges and the guidance it gave him.
“For me, the vision of UCSF was always opportunity, quality, expertise, pride, and respect,” Dr. Tuck says. “It’s going through a growing phase with challenging transitions. There have been a lot of promises put out, and it’s important to fulfill those obligations. I’m happy to be part of that through my service to UCSF.”