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When you finish placing a crown or other aesthetic type procedure, do you pause to reflect on the work youâ€™ve done? Or do you ask the patient if theyâ€™re happy with how they look? The latter is a philosophy instilled in Mehrnaz Iranmehr, D.D.S., since her early days in dental school. And she has carried that forward not only in her practice, but in her teaching.
“Giving back what I’ve learned is definitely one of the most highlighted parts of my career." - Mehrnaz Iranmehr, DDS
When Mehrnaz Iranmehr, D.D.S., decided to pursue a career in dentistry, the decision was based on an extremely personal experience.
Iranmehr was born in Iran and, following several relocations along the way, spent most of her formative years in Germany. During that time she rarely smiled, and she often covered her mouth while talking.
That’s because two of Iranmehr’s permanent front teeth never came in after her baby teeth fell out, leaving large spaces in the front of her mouth.
“I always covered my mouth every time I was talking or laughing,” she recalls. “This went on all throughout my teenage years.”
And due to her age, implants were out of the question.
“We had to wait until my facial structure and bone had completely formed,” Iranmehr says.
Eventually Iranmehr moved to the U.S., and after brief stops in Seattle and San Diego, her family settled in Dallas, Texas. An orthodontist with “close ties” to Baylor College of Dentistry took her under his wing. And following many procedures, Iranmehr had her smile back. She also had a direction in life she wanted to pursue.
Iranmehr went from being a patient at Baylor to being a student. And to this day at her Preston Family Dentistry practice, she recalls the words of her professor and mentor. Those words, she says, form her entire philosophy of dentistry.
“Every time I sit down with a patient, I remember that I’m not just working with a patient, I’m working with a person,” Iranmehr says. “And I need to be in tune with that patient and what they want.”
Iranmehr builds off her own experience. All she wanted to do as a teenager was be able to smile without feeling self-conscious. She got her wish, and now she wants to make certain every one of her patients gets theirs.
“I can go in and do what I want, but if they’re not happy with it, it really has no value,” she explains. “It’s very important to listen to their concerns and desires, and then work with them to make dentistry fit into that desire.”
Iranmehr closes her practice every Friday, but not so she can enjoy a three-day weekend. She’s a clinical assistant professor at Baylor College of Dentistry where she teaches chairside practice to prospective dentists, and says the experience is amazing.
“Teaching is not monetarily rewarding,” she explains. “But when I say something to the students and you see the light bulb going on, that’s what the reward is all about.”
She also brings something very important to each class. As a part-time faculty member working in a clinical office and seeing patients every day, she instills a “real world” element into her classes. She sees it as a way to help shape them for what awaits them after graduation.
“Academically, we can make everything perfect,” she explains. “That’s how it is in the textbooks. But they have to be able to go outside the books and look for other ways to do things, and be able to accommodate that we don’t live in a perfect world.”
Helping students think outside their comfort zone, see different methods and how to apply them in ways they can be more efficient while creating more comfort for their patients, that’s what Iranmehr enjoys most about teaching.
And she works to instill the same philosophy her mentors did with her. That’s it’s not about how the dentist feels about the procedure, or how beautiful a filling might look in a patient’s mouth. It’s about what the patient will appreciate.
“You can place the most beautiful filling in their mouth and they will not notice it, but if you pull their hair accidentally while lowering their chair, or pull on the corner of their lip too hard, they will remember that, and these are the things we need to pay attention to,” she says. “It is great to have clinical skills, but they will never, ever replace bedside manner.”
Iranmehr is especially proud of her daughter who just completed her sophomore year at Baylor College of Dentistry, but makes it clear that the career path was her daughter’s choosing. She explains that her father was a banker, but never forced her to enter his line of work. She took the same approach with her daughter.
“I love my job,” she says. “I wake up every morning excited and happy that I’m going to work. And as a parent that’s exactly what I wanted for her. And the only way possible is if she really likes it the way I do.”
She does, and so do many other young prospective female dentists. Iranmehr has been teaching since 2006, and says back then there might have been one female student in her classes for every three men. Today, it’s at least 50-50, maybe even leaning more so to a greater percentage of women.
“It’s a huge trend, and my daughter is part of it,” she says.
When she not at her practice or teaching at Baylor, Iranmehr enjoys spending time with her family—specifically, horseback riding and scuba diving. She says that both activities give her an important break from the day-to-day stress that comes from working in a very small space.
“Scuba diving and being on a ranch not surrounded by buildings or confined to a small space, that’s where I get my break,” Iranmehr says. “I let my mind go, and don’t have to pay attention to the little things.”
What she hopes to pay more attention to in the future is teaching. Her hope is that her daughter will soon join her in the practice and take over many of her existing patients, enabling her to cut back on the clinical side of her work and do more teaching.
“Giving back what I’ve learned is definitely one of the most highlighted parts of my career,” Iranmehr says.
Photo courtesy of Preston Family Dentistry.