Dr. Suffyah Webb has all the things you would expect to find in the waiting room of a pediatric dentist. Cool toys, bouncy tunes coming out of the speakers, unique pieces of art — and numerous items involving animals — everywhere.
And, of course, images of a tooth with a big smiling face.
It’s standard procedure for the profession — and, if that’s the interaction kids get with a dentist once (or, hopefully, twice) a year, most would call it a success.
Webb calls it a starting point.
A child of Newark (St. Phillips Academy and the now-closed CHAD Science High), Webb said her goal at Brilliant Smiles Pediatric Dentistry on Halsey Street is to help families make the connection between oral health and their overall health.
It’s a connection most parents miss, Webb said.
“If you tell someone they have a bad heart, they understand that impacts the blood that is throughout their body,” she said. “It’s not as easy to explain why teeth problems affect much more than just their mouth.
“I’ll explain to a parent: ‘If their teeth hurt, they’re not going to eat and not be able to sleep. And then, they’re not going to be able to learn and be the best student and the best child they can be, because they don’t have happiness and comfort.’
“So, if for no other reason than wanting your child to sleep well at night, have confidence to smile and just be able to eat with comfort, you need to see a dentist. If you don’t, then you’re doing your child a disservice.”
Webb loves that her office is a few blocks from where she lives now — and from where she grew up.
Even more, she loves it when the parents of her patients find that out.
“When people first meet me, they are a little leery, like, ‘Where’d you grow up, doc?’” she said they’ll say. “Once I tell them that I grew up here, they start realizing that we know the same people. That’s always like a real joy.”
When they hear her commitment to the city, they are even more impressed.
A graduate of Montclair State University, Webb earned her Doctorate of Dental Surgery from Howard University in 2009.
She began working toward a master’s degree in public health from Rutgers University School of Dental Medicine, where her dissertation compared the teeth of school-age children in Newark, which does not have fluoridated water, versus Washington, D.C., which does.
She also began to experience the impact of public health firsthand.
Webb began working in Newark public schools, at Dayton Street School in the South Ward — a school she attended.
There, she was part of a program funded by Jewish Renaissance Medical Center, a Newark-based nonprofit that provides dental and medical care and counseling to students.
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“It’s a way to increase the access to care for the children in these communities,” Webb said. “Maybe their parent has a strict work schedule, and they can’t get them out of school to take them to the dentist. Or, maybe the parent has a low dental IQ, so they don’t think dental care is necessary.
“If the parent signs a permission slip and that child has a dental emergency, they can go to the nurse’s office, where there’s a dentist every day to get them out of pain — and to provide education to the parents, so that they get that child the treatment that they need.”
Webb saw firsthand the impact pediatric dentistry can have.
“I thought, ‘I want to be able to give the best to these children,’” she said.
So, Webb returned to Howard University for two more years of specialty training for pediatric dentistry.
Webb’s first job after completing her pediatric dental residency in 2013 was with a company that had numerous locations in the greater Atlantic City area. Her impact was immediate. In fact, patients from those days still come to visit her.
Newark, however, was her home.
She returned to North Jersey, working for a time in Morris County, before opening up Brilliant Smiles in Newark, which would enable her to care for children in her old neighborhood. Life was great.
It was March 2020.
Before she received even a single reimbursement, her practice was shut down by the pandemic. Somehow, that became a good thing.
“I said, ‘Wow, this is not really how I planned this to go,’” she said. “But it turned out to be a wonderful thing. Someone posted about my office in a Facebook group, and we went viral.
“When we reopened months later, we came in to more than 100 voicemails. People were excited to get in; they were very shocked that someone from the community was back here serving them.”
That service extends well past Webb’s personal practice.
She is connected to the Leaguers, which is a part of nearly two dozen Head Start programs in the city. She goes into schools on a biweekly basis and sees between 20-40 kids.
“They get an exam, a cleaning, fluoride treatment — and then they go home with a dental report card,” she said. “We have found that, when we send these report cards home, the parents call us and bring the children in for more care. We’ve been able to do some charity-care cases, too.”
Webb also is the only board-certified pediatric dentist on staff at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center (the hospital in which she was born) and helps with the pediatric program at the Rutgers University School of Dental Medicine.
It’s no wonder that, in March, she was confirmed as a member of the New Jersey Public Health Council, following a nomination by Gov. Phil Murphy.
Now, about that waiting room.
It starts with the music, provided by Essence Jarrell, the office coordinator who doubles as a DJ. On Tuesdays, she plays African beats. On Fridays, it’s Jersey club. On Wednesday …
“It depends on Essence’s mood for the day,” Webb said. “She gets to pick.”
It’s just part of the atmosphere.
“It is a wild time,” Webb said.
On this day, Webb’s 3-year-old daughter was riding a tricycle while others were playing with Legos.
“When you have a place that’s tailored for children, you really have to be open for whatever is going to happen that day,” she said. “We’re always ready for the unexpected. And we really treat every day like it’s an adventure. We have a great time here.”
There is a method to the craziness.
“I’m a little bit quirky,” Webb said. “But that works as a pediatric dentist. When I walk in the room, I’m not in a white coat; the kids don’t realize who I am. I’m just the person cracking jokes. And, before they know it, the work is all done.
“Parents say, ‘There’s no way that you gave them a shot, they’re not screaming.’”
“I say, ‘Well, we have our tricks.’”
The greatest trick is played on the parents, Webb said. They leave with a far better understanding of community health than they realized they needed.
“I’m a dentist,” Webb said. “I’m there to fix the teeth. But I’m also there to educate about total body wellness.
“What I have found is that I can be a community staple. I just love chatting with families, prompting them to take care of their own needs as parents and with their older children. That’s why I just love being in Newark. It brings me joy to be able to serve the community.”
Reach Brilliant Smiles Pediatric Dentistry at: brilliantnewark.com or call 862-955-2285.