ABPD Diplomates come from many diverse backgrounds and enrich pediatric dentistry through their perspectives, beliefs, and identities. ABPD is committed to nurturing an environment which is diverse, equitable and inclusive for all. Amongst our diplomates are leaders who have been exemplary in addressing the complex issues pertaining to diversity, equity and inclusion within their practice and in the broader community. Our diplomates strive to highlight that it is indeed feasible to elevate equity, activate diversity and lead inclusively. ABPD’s Diveristy Equity and Inclusion (DEI) committee has the honor to introduce Dr. Laila Hishaw and spotlight her powerful work on furthering diversity.

Dr. Laila Hishaw, a Diplomate of the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry, is in private practice and owns two offices in Tucson, Arizona. She studied Sports Medicine at Pepperdine University and earned her Doctor of Dental Surgery from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry. In 2002, Dr. Hishaw completed her specialization in pediatric dentistry at the University of Texas Health Science Center – San Antonio. Dr. Hishaw is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, and both the American and International College of Dentists. She and her husband are proud parents of three children, one of whom is a first-year student in college.

In her practice, Dr. Hishaw strives for excellence in providing care for all her pediatric patients. But over the last four years she has become a champion within her community and nationally for diversity in dentistry and mentorship. In 2018, a Health Policy Institute report by the American Dental Association on the lack of diversity among U.S. dentists caught Dr. Hishaw’s attention. It shocked her to know that only 3.8% of U.S dentists were Black, 5.2% Hispanic and 1.1% totaled American Indian, Alaska Native and Pacific Islanders. It also surprised her that only 16% of new dental student enrollees came from underrepresented groups. Dr. Hishaw felt very strongly that something needed to be done to provide mentorship for historically underrepresented children in middle and high schools to help them pursue a career in dentistry. Dr. Hishaw sensed that children from underserved and underrepresented groups could not identify dentist mentors who would help them navigate the pathway toward dental education.

How did this drive to champion the cause of diversity come about? Dr. Hishaw shared that she is the daughter of an African American mother and an Iranian father. Her father was a dentist who completed his residency at University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry. Her family then moved to Iran where her father practiced dentistry. However, during the Islamic Revolution in Iran, her family was separated, and she and her mother returned to Kansas City. Dr. Hishaw was raised by her mother and her maternal grandmother while her mother worked two jobs as a school teacher and interior designer. The discipline and drive to be a successful doctor was instilled in her by her mother. After college, Dr. Hishaw returned to Iran to meet her father and felt the professional satisfaction her father experienced by practicing and teaching dentistry. And that is when Dr. Hishaw decided to pursue dentistry. Her own background has given her the context to discern the hardships faced by children and youth from underserved and underrepresented groups.

Dr. Hishaw’s initial effort to mentor children started on Facebook by posting supportive information on her page. As her endeavor grew to embrace more children, parents, guardians and pre-dental students, she started a Facebook group which included other dental colleagues willing to serve as mentors to youth and young adults. Before long, Dr. Hishaw established Diversity in Dentistry Mentorships (D.I.D.) which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to strengthen the diversity pathway from middle school to dental school through mentoring, educational and hands-on programming, and scholarships to youth and pre-dental students from African-American/Black, Latinx, and Native American backgrounds.

D.I.D. connects aspiring youth and pre-dental students with mentors who are practicing dentists in their communities or virtually across the nation. Through the work of her organization, Dr. Hishaw has realized that there are many obstacles that children from minority backgrounds face in pursuing dental careers. In addition to financial hurdles, it is hard for these children to even find shadowing experiences in dental offices. They may often be the first in their families to pursue a career in healthcare, and their families may be unable to guide them in choosing college courses to support their ambitions.

The mentee-mentor relationship established through D.I.D. allows for a long-term nurturing relationship to the student. The mentor and the organization prepare the students through mock interviews, editing personal statements and enrichment through hands-on activities. Her organization conducts their annual “Diversify Dentistry Youth Summit” where middle and high school students are invited to an introduction to dentistry. After a day-long immersive experience in dentistry, the students have a mock white coat ceremony with their mentor, to inculcate a sense of pride and inspiration. The children receive access to videos and other resources to help them apply to dental schools.

The success of Dr. Hishaw’s organization, D.I.D., has skyrocketed. It is now supported by ADEA, Spear Dental Education, Delta Dental of Arizona and Benco Family Foundation, to name a few. Proceeds from Dr. Hishaw’s own book, Cavity-Free Kids: How to Care For Your Kids’ Teeth From Birth Through Their Teenage Years, also support D.I.D.

It is Dr Hishaw’s hope that connecting historically underrepresented children in middle and high schools with mentors will eventually help the children complete dental school successfully. They will add to the diversity of dentists in communities across the country. And eventually, the children who have benefitted through the process will themselves become leaders in their community and mentor other children. She is confidently optimistic to change the percentage of dentists from underrepresented backgrounds from single-digit to double-digits in the near future. Dr Hishaw calls it “elevating dentistry through mentorship”. Dr Hishaw also believes more representation will increase access to care and promote oral health equity.

Dr. Hishaw’s own reflection on her journey with D.I.D has been that being a mentor is extremely fulfilling. Her dental colleagues have expressed that it provides them the ability to be a participant in dental education whilst in private practice. Her organization now has 68 mentees and 49 mentors. And they always need more mentors!

A full-time career in pediatric dentistry, a family, a fulfilling job of mentorship to disadvantaged children- is there anything else Dr. Hishaw would like to do? She said – of course! In the future, Dr. Hishaw would like to establish a support network and a safe, nurturing space for women dentists of color to help in negotiating contracts, salaries, honoraria for lectures, develop leadership skills and prepare for opportunities in the business of dentistry or nonprofits.


Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/diversityindentistry
Youth Summit video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MV3OssCU7xg

The ABPD DEI Committee (Drs. Toddrick Smith, Thomas Tanbonliong and Priyanshi Ritwik) welcomes your nominations and ideas for future Diplomate spotlights. Priyanshi Ritwik penned this Diplomate spotlight.