Check Up: Beyond Braces

Spring 2023

Joseph G. Ghafari, DMD, Professor and Founding Chairperson at the Department of Dentofacial Medicine

What does the Dentofacial Department at AUBMC do?

The Dentofacial Department was originally a specialty orthodontics department basically just straightening teeth, but we’re more multifaceted now and provide care in all dental specialties. We have a general dentist, a periodontist, a pediatric dentist, and an endodontist—who performs root canals—all of whom work in our department on a part-time basis.

We deal with a lot of craniofacial anomalies. These could be as mild as crooked teeth or as severe as a cleft lip, cleft palate syndromes, or symptoms that affect the facial appearance and the function of the face and jaw. These are often treated by maxillofacial surgeons.

What distinguishes the department from other dentistry-focused departments at peer universities?

What is unique in the annals of medicine and dentistry, and what has significant implications, is that the department sits under the umbrella of the medical school. This is unprecedented and unique because dental medicine is universally treated as separate and apart from medicine.

But why should the mouth, a central organ responsible for speech, mastication, eating, and breathing, be considered separate? There is a historical reason: dentistry began not at the doctor’s office, but at the barber shop, where, long ago, dentistry was a matter of tooth extraction performed by a barber. To this day, in Pennsylvania, there are two professions that the state licenses through a practical exam: dentistry and hairdressing.

In fact, the AUB Dental School closed in the 1940s because there weren’t enough applicants. Why? Because the Lebanese government, in line with historical thinking around dentistry, passed a law that allowed would-be dentists to enter the profession via apprenticeship, and the Dental School administrators understood that this would lead to decreased enrollment.

What has prevented dentistry’s reintegration into medicine?

The integration of dentistry and medicine has become a political issue. Dental schools and their leadership, born separately into the academic universe, do not want to integrate. Why become a vassal when you’re already a king? There is a movement supporting reintegration in the United States that has gained some traction within the Edward Engel Society of Orthodontics, of which I am a member; however, there has been no great progress on the issue. AUB, with the creation of the Dentofacial Department, is really a leader in that space.

What are your goals and hopes for the department’s future?

Dr. Joseph Tamari, a distinguished dentist who practiced in Lebanon and then at the University of Chicago, donated to support our growth. We have 9 dental chairs now, but soon we will have 21 chairs.

Our goal is for the various departmental staff to be working in the department full-time rather than part-time as they do now. Then we are going to offer postgraduate residencies or fellowships, either in general dentistry or a specialization. We have many great mentors and teachers students can work with. Beyond that, we’d like to have a continuing education arm.