In honor of Cleft Palate Awareness Month, we are delighted to introduce Dr. Wasna “Waz” Dabbagh (D’14) as our July alumni spotlight!
Read our Q&A with Dr. Waz to hear about her experience as an Orthodontist and her special interest in orthodontics for patients with cleft lip and palate as well as other craniofacial abnormalities.
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Why did you choose Penn Dental Medicine?
WD: UPenn is one of the highest ranking dental medicine programs in the world. When I moved to the US from Iraq I knew that I wanted a comprehensive education; I wasn’t just looking for technical skills. I was also looking for a community of peers and mentors to learn from and to be a part of. And of course, because Philly is great. GO EAGLES!
How did you end up in the field of Orthodontics and specifically working with cleft palates?
WD: I chose orthodontics and took special interest in cleft palates for reasons that are purely personal. One of my favorite people in the world was born with a cleft palate. I had to watch her grow up in Baghdad struggling due to the lack of dentists and surgeons who specialize in cleft lip and palate. It takes a village to treat this condition, and a village she didn’t have. It became a mission for me to do everything I can to prevent that from happening to another child.
Why are cleft palates an important issue for people in general (and dentists specifically) to understand?
WD: It’s not as rare as people think. The incident of a child born with a cleft is 1 in 700 live births, which is more prevalent than many other medical conditions that receive much more awareness and financial support. Additionally, the psychological stigma of children born with a visible facial deformity can have long lasting negative effects on them for the rest of their lives. Orthodontists really need to be the quarterbacks helping to align an entire team of individuals to treat and support these children and their families.
Could you talk a little bit about the center you are establishing in Baghdad?
WD: There are studies linking maternal stress from wars and their aftermath to an increase in infants born with cleft lip and palate. Iraq, having endured multiple wars and conflicts over the past several decades, desperately needs a comprehensive center that can start treating the condition from prior to birth until the patient is well in his/her 20s.
As I mentioned earlier, it takes a village to treat it. The parents start treatment with pre-natal care; you need a feeding specialist, pediatrician, audiologist, orthodontist, craniofacial/ plastic surgeon, speech therapist, social worker, pediatric dentist and a prosthodontist to just name a few.
The burden of care falls squarely on the family of the patient and it is enormous, in regards to time, energy and finances. I am trying to emulate the Lancaster Cleft Palate Clinic model in taking some of that burden away. By having a one-stop, team-based, multidisciplinary treatment center, children can be treated and monitored by a well informed and trained team from infancy to adulthood.
Being mentored by Dr. Ross (Rusty) Long, one of the premier cleft palate orthodontic specialists in the world, has sharpened my understanding, skills and passion for treating cleft palate patients. It has given me an invaluable road map which I intend to use to help get this program in Baghdad up and running.
How do you stay connected with Penn Dental Medicine?
WD: I maintain personal and professional relationships with many PDM alumni who are making tremendous strides in dentistry. I also stay informed and connected about the goings on through social media and try to be as involved as I can.
Anything else you would like to share?
WD: Being an immigrant comes with a few self-imposed responsibilities. It is the case with many first-generation immigrants to take the education and skills that they got from amazing opportunities (like attending Penn Dental Medicine and working for the Lancaster Cleft Palate Clinic) and use them to better their countries and societies. Being an immigrant has definitely shaped my career and passions and I hope to live up to a phrase from the Broadway musical Hamilton: “Immigrants, we get the job done!”