the first Emirati female dentist
Long before the UAE sent its first astronaut into space or appointed the world’s youngest minister, a group of pioneer Emirati women reached for the stars. They were the first generation to receive a postgraduate education, sent overseas by the country’s founding father, Sheikh Zayed, to learn crucial skills and return to the UAE to propel the country to a bright new future. To mark the UAE’s 50th anniversary, The National interviewed some of these pioneers.
When Dr Moza Tahwara was born in Dubai in 1955, dentistry was in its infancy.
People used home remedies to treat toothaches, and painful extractions were common.
The braces and veneers that guarantee a person pearly whites today were unheard of.
âPeople treated their problems with cloves and salt water,â Dr Tahwara says with a chuckle.
It was also difficult at this time for many women to be treated by a male dentist due to traditions and social constraints.
But then the change came, with pioneers like Dr Tahwara from a new generation of young Emiratis helping to transform their young country.
Dr Tahwara was born when Dubai was a small creek fishing town. He even had his own passport and his own borders.
âIt was just a desert with a few houses and people,â she says. “When I was in high school, the United Arab Emirates united.”
The country has grown at breakneck speed. She graduated from high school in 1976 and was part of a group of about 18 girls that Sheikh Zayed, the founding father, sent by private plane to study in Egypt.
While she initially considered studying engineering, Arabic literature or geology, the Emirati officer in charge of the group encouraged her to turn to dentistry.
“He said, ‘Moza, we need dentists. There is no one there and I have one [position] allocated for the United Arab Emirates. You take it. ‘âHis fate was sealed.
âEgypt has opened doors for us,â she says.
In 1981, she obtained a bachelor’s degree in dentistry from Cairo University and returned to the United Arab Emirates, working at the Rashid Hospital in Dubai for two years before traveling again.
She went to the UK and studied for a Masters in Pediatric Dentistry at the University of London.
âI learned all about dentistry in London,â she says. âBut London also taught me to be strong. During my first year, I couldn’t go to the hospital on my own because I was afraid of taking the train or the subway.
âMy husband, who is maxillofacial [oral] surgeon and was studying there with me at the time, said, ‘Moza, if you want to build your career, then go for it on your own.’ “
It was the boost she needed and she began to immerse herself in city life, while still keeping an eye on her important work at home.
âHe taught me to travel the first time around, then I started to go everywhere on my own,â she says.
“I even started changing trains. It was good but for a woman from the UAE who led a simple life, living this life was difficult and hectic, but I did.”
His teachers quickly recognized his ambition and determination.
âThey were like, ‘English is your second language, but you are doing a good job.’ However, I worked hard for it, I was in the library until 10pm, âshe says.
She graduated in 1986 and decided to major in orthodontics – a branch of dentistry that treats malocclusion, a condition in which a person’s teeth are misaligned.
âI thought it was very sweet and I thought to myself that this is where I want to be,â she says.
Dr Tahwara obtained a Masters degree in Orthodontics from the University of London in 1990 before returning to the United Arab Emirates, where she began the Department of Pediatrics and Orthodontics at Rashid Hospital.
She was the first UAE orthodontist. She also helped start the Emirates Orthodontic Society and began to organize conferences and give lectures.
She was appointed head of the Arab Association of Orthodontics in 2009.
Has she ever encountered difficulties working in what was typically a male profession? Quite the contrary.
âPeople accepted a female dentist because they preferred a female. I’ve had so many patients who were ashamed to go to a male dentist, âshe says.
âWhen I arrived they were very happy to see a female dentist. They weren’t shy. Before, they wore the burqa and did not open their mouths in front of the man – even my own mother did not eat in front of my father. “
Over the years, she established her own private clinic before retiring in 2018. Looking back on those early years as the UAE marks a special anniversary, Dr Tahwara is one of the small group of people who remember of life before the boom.
âWe’ve had a good family life, but how are the younger generation going to relax at our age? They’re always on. They’re like machines,â she said.
“We have seen the poor and simple life and we have seen this great evolution. The younger generation is still running, running, running.”
Dr Tahwara, who has a son and a daughter, has also worked hard and had to face the same challenges to balance his personal and professional life. She would have liked to spend more time with her family instead of working.
âI’m sorry I missed being there when they were babies. If the time came back, I would also be with my children. I’m sorry I wasn’t there, âshe said.
She first saw Sheikh Zayed when he visited his school in the mid-1970s and speaks in awe of the man who brought the UAE forward.
âHe believed that all the money in the UAE belonged to his people: to build houses, to study and to lead a decent life. He spent a lot of money for the Emiratis to study abroad and gave us salaries, âshe said.
“We all considered him our father and we are his children. He came to visit us in Cairo and it was like a father who came to see his children.”
Update: November 21, 2021, 10:52 a.m.