"He's the sole reason I became an orthodontist," says Monisha Iyer, DMD, of her childhood orthodontist. "He changed my life in a way that I want to do for others."
Monisha Iyer had very crooked teeth as a child. Her grandmother, who came to visit from India, told Iyer’s father, “You’ve got to get this girl’s teeth fixed, because she’s never going to get married.”
Then her orthodontist took over. Soon, she began to smile, and people noticed it. Her new smile made her personality blossom. And it left an indelible impression on Iyer.
“He’s the sole reason I became an orthodontist,” she says. “He changed my life in a way that I want to do for others.”
In 2006, along with Dr. Ross Segal, she founded Segal and Iyer Orthodontics. Patients have benefitted, along with hundreds of dental professionals who have taken their continuing education courses. And it all started with her orthodontist.
“It was really a life-altering experience,” she says.
When You’re Smiling
Iyer graduated with honors from Harvard School of Dental Medicine, and later earned a Masters in Orthodontics from the University of Michigan, where she was one of only three students nationwide to be granted the prestigious Thomas M. Graber Award of Special Merit.
The award, Iyer explains, is given to two or three graduate students across the country who are doing unique research projects in orthodontics. It’s a huge accomplishment, but to Iyer it held a special significance.
“The head of the orthodontics department (at the University of Michigan) is world renowned, and he was my mentor for my thesis,” she explains. “To accomplish a thesis with this doctor you have to work especially hard. So to do that, and then receive this honor, it was icing on the cake. I just wanted to make him proud.”
The topic of Iyer’s research was the value patients place on time and money when seeking treatment. The overall conclusion was that patients place huge importance on their smile in their daily life. And they are willing to put in the time to achieve the results they want.
“It matters a ton to patients how their smile looks, and how they feel about their smile,” Iyer says.
Just as she does today about her own.
Iyer is a huge proponent of facially integrated orthodontics, or giving strong consideration to an individual’s overall face and how it ages in relation to their smile. She explains that in years past orthodontists would take impressions in order to have a stone model of a patient’s teeth. The problem, she says, is that there was never a face attached to the teeth.
“Now what we do is we strongly consider the space,” Iyer says. “We take measurements on a dynamic smile, which means we’ll have a tooth at rest position, a tooth at smile position. We’ll take clinical notes when they’re talking where their teeth are, so that when we’re building their customized smile, we are going to make sure that we’re placing those teeth where they’re going to be best for the long haul.”
Consideration is also given to the vertical and horizontal positions of the teeth, and how they fit the overall lip posture. In many respects, Iyer agrees, it’s a lot like personalized medicine in the medical community.
“Yes, everyone is different; everyone is unique,” she says. “It’s completely personalized care.”
Iyer has received her share of accolades. For example, she has been among South Jersey Magazine’s top dentists for the past several years — a distinction she does not take lightly.
“It’s great to be recognized in your immediate community,” she says. “It is nice for our patients to feel that they’re seeing someone who is a cut above the rest, so to speak; that we’re doing a great job serving our patients. So to have that recognition, it’s very fulfilling to know that we are doing our jobs in the right way. And we hope to continue to do that.”
Something else Iyer wants to continue at some point is teaching. While she regularly conducts continuing education courses, Iyer has been a part-time faculty member at New York University teaching clinical orthodontics to residents. She took a hiatus once she had children, but does intend to resume her work in the future.
“I love sharing my experiences and knowledge with the community, with my colleagues, and anyone who could benefit, because it’s giving back,” Iyer says. “So many of my teachers gave to me, it’s only fair to give back, and it’s a pleasure and a joy to do that because you’re helping colleagues and professionals who need it the most.”
And there’s a second important component. Iyer says teaching keeps her young, and keeps her on her toes.
“It keeps me up to date with everything current, because you owe it to them to know your stuff.”
Sports and Teams
A self-described sports fanatic, Iyer played collegiate rugby for four years, among other sports, and has hiked in several countries. She says the concept and spirit of “team” that accompanies success in sports is equally important to spread throughout the practice every day.
“There is no way to run this office or have an orthodontic practice without the concept of team,” she says. “The doctors do a certain percentage of the work, but the majority of the work is carried out by our team members. And the better the team, the better the experience for our patients.”
As for hiking, Iyer says her favorite place was hiking up Machu Picchu in Peru. She has also hiked Mount Toubkal, one of the highest mountains in North Africa. Both were unique experiences for different reasons, she says. But hiking in general is an activity Iyer holds dear.
“In today’s fast-paced world with cell phones, minute-to-minute technology, and having to answer everyone all the time, it’s just such a great experience to leave that all behind and absorb nature, reflect inside, and just be one with yourself,” Iyer says. “I think we learn a lot that carries on to daily life by taking time to do that, whenever we can.”