Dr. Liya Mohammed on Changing Dentistry for the Better

Picture this: you have a dental appointment later today. You've re-scheduled a couple of times, but today is the day, and there's no getting out of it. 

If you're like most people, you probably don't enjoy these trips to the dentist's office very much, even though you definitely appreciate the effects of skilled dental work. 

For some, negative experiences with dentists during their youth are enough to instill a lifelong fear of sitting in the big chair. At the same time, we all know just how important it is to take care of our teeth, and dentistry is a key part of the process. 

But it might surprise you to hear that dentistry has been evolving along multiple fronts, and expert dentists and orthodontists are working hard to help patients while also keeping them as comfortable as possible. 

It's finally time to share some takeaways from Success Quarterly's recent talk with Dr. Liya Mohammed, D.D.S., a long-time dentist and researcher who has a unique perspective on dentistry and how to move the industry forward. 

Dr. Mohammed is currently the lead dentist at My Smile Dental in Union City, New Jersey. She has published multiple research studies and has also been a featured speaker at Mercy College. 

She also founded a non-profit, EmpowerGirlsNOW, which is an organization focused on educating women in Africa who have been subjected to child marriage and female genital mutilation. 

We think that Dr. Mohammed's career is an excellent example of how dentists can do more, not only for their patients but also for the dentistry community as a whole, and we'd like to share some of her thoughts with you, the first of which is all about keeping patients comfortable.  

Leading with comfort 

When we asked Dr. Mohammed to name some of the key factors behind her success, she explained that the most significant factors, by far, were simply hard work and being committed to the art of dentistry. 

Beyond that, however, she explained that a special skill she's had for many years is the ability to connect with people and make them feel comfortable. 

As we talked about at the start of the article, lots of people don't like going to the dentist, but they still need to go, so it's up to the dentists and their staff to make sure it's a pleasant experience every time, while also providing patients with the care they need. 

This is where Dr. Mohammed's people skills really get the chance to shine. 

"Ever since I was a child, my grandmother used to say I have a special gift with people. I've always had the ability to understand and communicate well with individuals of various personalities. In addition to the state-of-the-art education I received from the NYU College of Dentistry, I have the ability to calm patients and bond with them, despite their fear of dentists." 

That's a huge benefit in this industry, and it's something more and more dentists are starting to prioritize in their work. It's the dentistry equivalent of bedside manner. 

This helps patients feel at ease, and it also allows opportunities for dentists to explain any potential problems and the care options available for resolving those problems. 

Just like that, a patient might feel less intimidated by the idea of heading into the dentist's office, which also means that they'll be getting the care they need. 

Shifting dental dynamics 

While Dr. Mohammed is at the top of her game these days, she had to walk a rather difficult path to get to where she is now. 

One of the biggest challenges was trying to overcome bias among patients. To highlight existing bias, let's try a quick exercise: picture a dentist. It could be a dentist you've visited in the past or just a general idea of a dentist. What do they look like? How old are they? 

Chances are good that you pictured a man, middle-aged or slightly older. That's not a coincidence. Historically, dentistry, especially in the United States, has been dominated by men. 

Those dynamics are shifting (we'll get to that soon), but many people haven't adjusted this assumption, and this is a big part of why Dr. Mohammed encountered bias in the early days of her career. 

"At the start of my career, as a young woman of color, most of my patients felt that I was too young to be a dentist or preferred a male dentist, especially when the treatment involved extractions. Many patients had the misconception that stereotypically male strength was needed for this, so it became my responsibility to educate my patients that it's not force but technique that's really important. After just one visit, most of my patients were comfortable continuing treatment with me."

Is it fair that Dr. Mohammed had to correct these misconceptions? No, of course not. But she forged ahead just the same, and she gave many patients the chance to realize that gender wasn't nearly as important as they thought it was. 

dr liya mohammed

Thankfully, the demographics of dentists in the US are steadily changing, and that's not just a general impression. It's backed up by hard data. 

On this point, Dr. Mohammed shared some statistics from the American Dental Association. According to the ADA's 2010-2016 Masterfile and 2017 Survey of Dental Practice, there has been a significant increase in the proportion of women currently working in dentistry: from 24.5% to 29.8%. Over the same period, the proportion of male dentists fell from 75.5% to 70.2%. 

Dr. Mohammed also mentioned that her graduating class of dental students at NYU was almost 50% women.  

The dynamics are indeed changing, and we can hope that, simultaneously, patients will update their conception of what a dentist looks like. 

Inspiring students 

Though Dr. Mohammed has been a full-time dentist for years now, she hasn't left education behind. As we mentioned earlier, her organization EmpowerGirlsNOW places a huge emphasis on the importance of education. 

But even beyond her non-profit work, Dr. Mohammed has always had a hand in educating the next generation of dental students. 

Even when she was a college student herself, Dr. Mohammed spent her weekends teaching mathematics and chemistry to Science and Technology Entry Program students. 

While attending the NYU College of Dentistry, Dr. Mohammed served as a student ambassador for prospective dental students, tutored first and second-year dental students, and helped prospective international students prep for the National Board Dental Examination.  

And of course, more recently, Dr. Mohammed has delivered a number of lectures to dental students.

Dr. Mohammed emphasized to us just how challenging it can be for dental students to keep step with all kinds of exams and requirements. 

"Studying dentistry is not an easy task. Students are faced with tremendous amounts of lecture and lab hours, weekly and monthly exams, and not to mention cumulative final exams."

But if there are any dental students reading this right now, don't worry too much: Dr. Mohammed also had some words of encouragement to share.

"The biggest tip I can give dental students is to not fall behind. They need to study every day. They need to remember why they wanted to be a dentist and focus on the finish line and not so much on the bumps in the journey." 

Restoring smiles 

At the end of the day, every individual detail that we've discussed here comes together in the expert application of dental care. 

Even patients who are terrified to visit the dentist can appreciate the end result, and for Dr. Mohammed, it's those beautiful smiles that continue to motivate her to do the best work she possibly can. 

"The most exciting moments in my career are when I see my patients so happy they're in tears. Most of my patients are adults and have not been taking care of themselves for many years because they've been taking care of others. When they finally decide to restore their lost smile, the artist in me designs a smile that fits them perfectly, and the outcome is always exciting and fulfilling." 

If you're someone who's been putting off a trip to the dentist, we hope that we've given you plenty of reasons to finally do it, and for any dental students getting ready for their next exam, we want you to remember that this has always been an important line of work. 

Dr. Mohammed's career is proof that you can overcome just about anything if you love what you do and genuinely want to help people feel proud of their smiles. 

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