Suffiyah Webb ’04 DDS, MPH never doubted that her future career would have a health care focus. As far back as her days at Newark’s Chad High School, she was on the pre-med track, even participating in SMART (Science Medicine and Related Topics), a pre-college program at New Jersey Medical School. She was readily accepted to multiple combined Bachelor of Science and Doctor of Medicine degree programs, but Montclair’s eight-year Health Careers Program stood out to her.
“I had an older cousin who went to Montclair, and visited her there pretty often,” Webb says. “She was such a role model for me. Being on the Montclair campus felt like an adventure.”
But the transition to college held special challenges for Webb, who had lost her parents just two years before. “This was the first big thing I did without my parents by my side,” she explains. “It was just too much.”
Webb changed course from the eight-year combined program to a four-year Bachelor of Science in Biology. She finished her honors classes and planned to take a more traditional route to medical school.
The traditional route, however, took an interesting turn.
“When I was a junior at Montclair, I learned about a medical trip to Guatemala,” Webb says. “I thought it would be a great opportunity to shadow my mentor, who was an obstetrical/gynecological doctor.”
“But my mentor was not fluent in Spanish,” Webb continues. “As a result, the trip organizers decided to pair me with a woman dentist who did not need a translator. I worked as her assistant, and I fell in love with dentistry!”
Webb continued her education at Howard University, earning a doctorate of dental surgery in 2009, and she completed her general practice residency at Newark Beth Israel in 2010. After her first year of work, she returned to Howard University to specialize in Pediatric Dentistry and completed her certification in 2013. She also completed her Master of Public Health in 2013 from UMDNJ with a concentration in Dental Public Health.
Webb’s early career included serving as a dentist for Jewish Renaissance Medical Center, as a school dentist with Newark Public Schools and providing pediatric dentistry services at Zufall Health. She traveled all over her home state to provide pediatric dentistry services. “I think I got to know every inch of New Jersey during those years,” she says with a laugh. “It was quite an adventure.”
Young patients with special needs or medical conditions require special care. “If a patient suffers from hemophilia or sickle cell anemia, I will see them in a hospital setting,” she says, noting that she is an Associate Professor-Attending at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.
Webb founded her own practice, Brilliant Smiles, while still crisscrossing New Jersey. In 2020, she opened her brick-and-mortar location in the heart of Newark. She also regularly visits elementary schools and pre-school Head Start programs in the city as part of her mission to educate parents about oral health, and to reduce barriers to dental care.
“I see as many as 20 to 30 children on each visit,” she says. “Each child gets a dental report card to help parents plan for their child’s care.”
Prevention is a priority. “Many parents don’t realize that their children should see a dentist by the time they are a year old,” Webb adds. “Children can’t get the nutrition they need if they can’t chew properly. Their overall health suffers, as does their ability to learn. So many school hours are lost because of dental pain.”
Webb is so pleased with the Newark school program that she is discussing similar outreach in other municipalities, including Irvington and Elizabeth.
Webb’s deep commitment to the community she serves was developed while a student at Montclair. “Because of the University’s location I was able to find meaningful part-time work teaching science in nearby schools and had opportunities to participate in research for the Biology department,” she says. “I also had access to my family, as well as the culturally robust neighborhoods in and around Montclair.”
Webb rounded out her Montclair experience by serving as a Resident Assistant and participating in the Organization of Students for African Unity (OSAU). “I learned how to multitask,” she says, recalling also the opening of the Red Hawk Diner and relaxing at the Rathskeller.