Having lived, studied and worked in more than one culture, I feel cultural diversity has greatly enriched my life and experience both as a woman and as a dental student.
I was born and raised in Iraq, and earned my first degree in dentistry from the University of Jordan in Amman. I come from a tolerant family of professionals, both males and females. It’s common in the part of the world I come from to find women in the professions, including dentistry.
As quality of life matters most to me, my aspirations have always been to live and work in a free society and Canada seemed a good choice. After being here for 10 years now, I feel my choice has been validated. Canada offers me the opportunity to realize my potential in an advanced, egalitarian and equal opportunity society, a society that advances human rights and needs.
I have also come to realize in my time here that dentistry is intertwined with culture. A beautiful smile is universally valued as it represents health, success and a friendly attitude. In some cultures, a diastema (space between teeth) is considered a sign of beauty. Crooked teeth embody an attractive smile in some, but in most cultures a Hollywood-type smile is the norm. In each, dentistry conforms to the specifics of that culture.
Before coming to the University of Alberta, I was planning to study dental implant placing through continuing education courses following my undergrad program. Much to my delight, I discovered that the U of A offers implant courses as part of the Doctor of Dental Surgery program, which includes planning, restoration and surgery. After going through the majority of the course, I’ve discovered that it’s a great way to interact and relate to patients in need of dental rehabilitation.
Implant placing is becoming the key solution to a significant ailment—edentulism, or teeth loss, which greatly impacts people physically, socially and psychologically. Although there are many options to replace missing teeth—including bridges and dentures—dental implant is considered the best alternative as it preserves bone and doesn’t require preparation of the adjacent teeth.
An implant clinic is different from other dental clinics in its requirement for a holistic approach to patient care. After diagnosis and treatment planning, restoring a patient with implants requires the combined efforts of many specialties, such as surgery, prosthodontics, orthodontics and endodontics. It’s fascinating how one specialty requires the application of so many others.
My clinical experience started with screening a new patient. My instructor, Cheryl Cable, [’92 BSc, ’97 DDS, ’04 MBA], showed me how to listen to that patient, how to make her feel involved in the process, and how to look at her as a whole person instead of as a missing tooth. It was unbelievable the amount of information I needed to know about the patient that could affect the treatment and the outcome of placing an implant.
I watched my instructor listening to the patient intently, observing every single move and documenting her habits, expectations, fears and wishes. I remember thinking at the time: what difference does it make to know that she has been trying for about 10 years to have a baby? Then I understood: building trust with the patient required empathy and understanding. Only after going through this elaborate process was a decision made—with the consent and approval of the patient—that she was medically and psychologically suited for an implant to replace her mandibular 1st molar (lower 1st molar). From that date on, I realized the wisdom of what my instructor went through to arrive at a sound decision that medically and psychologically suits the patient.
Living and studying within more than one culture has broadened my horizons and sharpened my understanding of culture-specific considerations. To provide patients with the best outcome, we need to understand their culture, background and individuality. We need to know them as people first and patients second.