In exploring the unique attributes that women bring to the field of orthodontics, one of the recurring themes that keeps coming up is empathy. The ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. In the case of our next featured doctor, Dr. Laura Robison-Rabe of Dr. Jaw Orthodontists, this empathy isn’t just rooted in her being a woman, but as someone who has undergone, and benefitted from, extensive orthodontic treatment.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today. Your biography says you have benefitted from an extensive history with orthodontics as a patient. Can you tell us about your experience?
When I was 7 years old I had a mesiodens that blocked my incisors from coming in. So, for a long time I just had one front tooth. Finally, the left central incisor came in, but it was sort of shooting out to the side. So, I had a rather unusual frontal appearance.
I had that smile for a good year of my life and it really did make me self-conscious. I was much more shy, and I never really felt pretty. When it was time, my parents took me to our local orthodontist, Dr. Boice.
I wound up in phase one orthodontic treatment to bring my single incisor down and line up my front teeth. So that made a huge, huge difference in my life and how I felt about myself and my smile!
I also had two supernumerary premolars. So, we did phase one and then phase two was extractions. I also had to have a gingival graft. I had mandibular asymmetry that took a long time to correct. Even after that, I wound up doing aligners later.
I’ve had a lot of orthodontic treatment done. I always tell my patients that I’ve had anything and everything done that I’m recommending for you. So, I’m very sympathetic to how they feel.
At what point did you know that orthodontics was a profession you wanted to pursue?
I pretty much knew it instantly. My father was a general surgeon, so I always had it in my mind that I wanted to be a doctor of some sort.
But as soon as I started orthodontic treatment, I loved it. I was always fascinated by the process, how the teeth moved and how everything else changed as a result of treatment. Plus, I really admired my orthodontist Dr. Boice. At the age of ten I had set my mind to becoming an orthodontist and was telling everyone that this was what I was going to be.
Do you feel being a woman gives you a unique perspective to the activities and interactions that make up your day?
I absolutely think as a woman I can bring a special level of empathy to every interaction. I feel like there is a strong bond between me as a woman orthodontist, and say, a mother bringing her child in. I think young female patients feel more comfortable, and really relate, to a female orthodontist. So, I do think it has an effect on my career and how I relate to the patients.
I also feel like there’s differences in how the staff relates to a female orthodontist, or a female boss. I am one of three partners and the other two are men. I can tell that there are differences in how we all relate to the staff.
One of those partners is your husband, yes?
Yes. We are partners in our practice, but we have three locations, so we don’t actually work in the same place at the same time.
That’s a unique situation. How did it come about?
After graduation, I joined a practice with the intention of becoming a fifty percent partner. I was already married to an orthodontist (Dr. Kyle Rabe) and neither of us were thrilled with the idea of working in separate offices, or separate practices. So, my partner in the practice and I decided to open a second location so that we could bring my husband in as one of the partners.
Once we got the second practice up and running, he and I both got faster and better at treating patients, we realized that the three doctors didn’t need to be in the same place, at the same time, we looked to open a third practice, which we did. This enabled us to provide our services to an area of town that was under served.
How are you active in promoting orthodontics as a career choice for young women?
There are so many women in dentistry now that just teaching promotes many women! I have taught to both dental students and hygiene students in the hygiene program and pediatric dental program. But from a different standpoint, our practice is active with Girl Scouts here in Tucson and do a lot of sponsorships with them. We are passionate about giving back to the communities we serve by donating our time, energy and financial support. We also support the community by sponsoring a number of local sports teams and various civic organizations, including the Boys and Girls Clubs and the Children’s Museum. I also feel like just being a female orthodontist has inspired girls to explore orthodontics as something that they want to do as their career. I have had several patients and students come into the practice to shadow me.
Did you feel you ever had to work harder because you were a woman?
That’s interesting. I definitely had instructors in the past who said they were the only female in their dental school class. But my dental school class was about 30% females. My residency program was about 50% females. I never really felt like being female put me at a disadvantage.
Here in Tucson, we created a group, we call it TWIDS. That stands for Tucson Women In Dentistry. We get together every 4 months and share information and experiences to help each other. We may also schedule the occasional spa day together! [LAUGHS].
Speaking of referrals, did the downturn in the economy impact how you practiced?
I first started practicing in 2008, just as the economy started declining. Yes, many of the GP’s started taking on an expanded role and referring out less.
A lot of the practices I knew started doing Six Month Braces, Fast Braces and Invisalign. As the economy has started coming back, they’re starting to refer people out again. Probably because they’re now doing more general dentistry.
Thank you for your time. Is there anything you’d like end with?
I think dentistry draws a lot of nice people, and everybody’s been open and friendly. The profession has a real community feel. I’m really happy where I am and what I’m doing. And I still love talking about it to this day!
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