Moncayos Celebrate Dentistry in Palisades

By Laurel Busby
Staff Writer

Both Cerisa and Max Moncayo got their start as dentists in the military.

The two, who opened a private practice in the 881 Alma Real building last year, were part of a U.S. Navy program that provides dental educations in exchange for service. After getting accepted to dental school—Max at UCLA and Cerisa at USC—the two, who had yet to meet, applied for the Navy program.

Max applied first in 2001, was accepted and entered UCLA’s dental school, from which he graduated in 2005. He then spent the next 11 years in the military, including assignments on Navy vessels and time enrolled in a surgical training program at Walter Reed in Bethesda, Maryland. That training allowed him to serve in Afghanistan as a general surgeon near fighting on the Pakistani border.

Navy veterans Max and Cerisa Moncayo at the ribbon-cutting celebration for their offices in the 881 Alma Real building, in August.

The latter assignment meant “we were constantly dealing with live fire and everything else as the first stop for anyone who has gotten blown up or shot—life and death type of stuff,” said Max, who served with the Marines for this assignment, which involved opening Marines’ chests, getting them stable enough to fly out by helicopter and choosing who to save and who couldn’t be saved. “It was very rewarding as far as the training, but it also took a large toll on me. It was extremely stressful, but the training that you receive there—there’s nothing close in the States that can replicate the stress and the demands that environment put on me. That’s why I’m very grateful for it.”

When Max finished his year in Afghanistan, he continued his specialized medical training at Walter Reed as a maxillofacial surgeon, which involved head and neck surgery and facial reconstruction. He was then assigned to the Marine base in 29 Palms, where he met Cerisa.

She had graduated from USC’s School of Dentistry in 2012 and then spent the next four years as a dentist at the 29 Palms base. The two fell in love there and married in 2015.

Dr. Cerisa Moncayo

A year later, their military commitments ended, and they moved to Pacific Palisades to open their practice. However, the transition to civilian life, which Cerisa had been anticipating joyfully, proved to be surprisingly difficult.

“There was this weird void immediately after the transition,” Cerisa said. “It was kind of unexplainable. One day I was regularly interacting with people who all they knew was sacrifice and commitment to a cause,” and then the next day interacting with Palisadians who were often addressing much more mundane issues.

Cerisa, whose father spent 20 years in the Navy, didn’t mean that negatively, and noted, “The Palisades is a really military loving community, but it was such a different lifestyle that we had to get used to. We realized how fortunate we are and how many liberties we have.”

The service aspect of the military is something that both Max and Cerisa, who are members of the local American Legion Post 283, continue through volunteering dental services to needy veterans and others associated with the Dream Center, an outreach program run by their church, the Angelus Temple in downtown Los Angeles.

Cerisa, who grew up in both San Diego and near Santa Clarita, introduced Max, who grew up in Pomona, to the church, and its focus on transforming lives for the better appealed to both of them. Once or twice a month, they block off time to help someone who could otherwise not afford a dentist.

Dr. Max Moncayo

For example, their most recent client, who was missing her two front teeth, was thrilled when she learned how they could help her. “She said, ‘Oh gosh, I’m going to be able to smile again,’ and she was so excited to smile by the time she left,” Cerisa said. “It’s so indescribably rewarding.”

The nature of their practice, which they bought from Dr. Carla Levine, allows them to offer all dental services under one roof, ranging from simple cleanings to complex facial surgery. To create that type of system, the Moncayos invested in multiple new technologies, such as 3D radiographs, a 3D printer and a machine that isolates the growth factors and proteins from a patient’s blood to then use to generate new tissues for use during a surgery instead of having to rely on animal or cadaver tissues.

“It’s amazing to have the technology all under one roof so all parts of the office can use that to create seamless medical and dental care for our patients,” said Max, who also teaches at UCLA.

Cerisa noted how blessed they have felt over the last year in the Palisades. “We have met so many neighbors and local business partners. It’s been so humbling. My husband and I, we get a lot of moments of genuine awe at the generosity. As hard as it was to leave the military, we’re so privileged to live and work here and to do something we truly love.”

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