The decision to join UNLV was never a question of “why” for Dr. Tanya Al-Talib, but “why not?” For her, the university’s diverse environment presented an obvious choice.
UNLV is one of the places I feel very welcomed. It is a diverse environment of faculty, staff, and students. My colleagues are amazing — we genuinely like to work together and help each other out. The staff is remarkable. I am all about diversity, and I have never felt any discrimination here. My biggest thing has always been, “why not UNLV?”
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq, and relocated to Louisiana during 1995. My family and I moved to Las Vegas during 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.
What’s the biggest misconception about your field?
I feel like most people think about needles when they hear the words dentist or dentistry. It’s not all about needles. I’m an orthodontist and many people think all I do is straighten teeth. Orthodontics is a specialty that focuses on the correction of malocclusions, which occur when teeth don’t line up properly when you close your mouth, as well as dental facial deformities. There are situations where we can begin treatments at an early age to correct some skeletal issues. As orthodontists, we want to give our patients nice smiles and we do this by attempting to correct underlying issues.
What’s the biggest challenge in your field?
I think the biggest challenge in orthodontics is getting patients, especially young children, to comply with certain instructions after treatment begins. Younger patients often neglect cleaning their teeth when they have orthodontic appliances in place.
What inspired you to get into your field?
In Iraqi society, college is the path for all graduating high school students. Unlike the United States, there is not an undergraduate program. You do not have a couple of years to complete core courses and explore what you might want to do. You enter a specific college — engineering, medicine, education, etc. — and begin your major immediately.
Like many graduating high school students, I was uncertain what path to choose. Initially, I wanted to teach English. One of my cousins suggested that I consider dental medicine because he thought I was good with my hands, and that my dexterity would be beneficial in the profession. He took me to the college of dentistry and introduced me to some of the students. I liked (the people) I met and what they did. As much as I loved the idea of teaching English, I felt being a dentist would make a better impact among people.
Proudest moment in your life?
My proudest moments personally are the births of my two beautiful children. Professionally, it was walking across the stage to accept my orthodontic certificate and master’s degree.
If you could fix one thing in the world, what would it be?
The current state of the world is not pleasing. If I could do one thing to change our world, it would be to fill people with tolerance and love. We can wish for peace, but we must fix ourselves to make that happen. If we have more tolerance and love for one another, then we can achieve peace.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I was raised in a multi-cultural, multi-faith family. My father is an Iraqi Muslim; my mother is a Louisiana Catholic. Having parents with different religious and cultural backgrounds shaped my tolerance and compassion for all people. I don’t care about labels or appearances. I love people for people.
Who was your favorite professor and why?
During my orthodontic residency, two faculty members became my favorite people: Dr. William Proffit and Dr. Garland Hershey. I can’t thank them enough for what they have given me. Dr. Proffit, who is well-known in the orthodontic community, is an amazing person. He helped shape today’s orthodontics with his research and clinical experience. Dr. Hershey always motivated his students, supported the residents, and became the problem-solver. In addition Dr. Hershey’s knowledge and his dedication to teaching orthodontics is amazing. Both Dr. Proffit and Dr. Hershey are the models to follow to become a successful faculty member. I hope to be like one of them.
What can’t you work without?
I cannot work without a smile. Smiles create a positive environment — an environment that drives me to offer the best to my patients and students.
Who is your hero?
My hero is my husband. He is the best man I have ever met. Some people have heroes during their childhood, but I did not find my hero until I met him. He is trusting, supportive, an amazing father, and a good example for our children and me.
I love to cook. My favorite dish to prepare is kibbeh hamidah (sour kibbeh) which is a wheat ball stuffed with meat cooked in a red sauce seasoned with herbs and lemons. I am also adventurous in my cooking and have tried preparing many dishes popular in other cultures.