Composites and composition: Talking the art of cosmetic dentistry with Zainab Al-Mukhtar
For some people, dentistry runs in the blood.
And that’s definitely true of today’s guest, Zainab Al-Mukhtar, for whom formative years spent watching mum practise made the dental clinic feel like a second home.
Zainab talks about Instagram, motherhood and approaching cosmetic work as an artform. She also discusses the joy to be found in teaching others.
I want to continue doing what I’m doing, but just continue taking it to the next level each time. I am, where I am, really happy doing what I’m doing now. I just want to do more of it. – Zainab Al Mukhtar
About Zainab Al-Mukhtar
Zainab graduated from Guy’s Kings & St Thomas with distinction in 2010.
She pursued an early interest in cosmetic dentistry, especially in the art of direct sculpting composite veneers and now holds a postgraduate certificate in aesthetic dentistry.
Keen artist Zainab now brings her eye to bear on facial aesthetic treatments and is a trainer and demonstrator with Oris Medical at the Royal College of General Practitioners
Zainab holds the Royal College of Surgeons Edingurgh’s Diplomate of Membership of the Faculty of Dental Surgery and was awarded membership of the Joint Dental Faculties of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. She is also a member of the British Academy of Restorative Dentistry.
Outside of dentistry, Zainab enjoys travel, drawing and spending time with family.
In this episode:
01:10 – Growing up
05:30 – Watching mum at work
11:31 – Starting in practise
14:56 – Business and entrepreneurship
17:57 – Instagram
22:36 – Women in dentistry
29:59 – Aesthetics and art
34:00 – Results and longevity
35:57 – Personal development
41:08 – Achieving work-life balance
44:09 – Tips for being in business
48:59 – Zainab’s biggest clinical mistake
50:15 – Teaching aesthetics
Connect with Zainab:
Connect with Prav and Payman:
Zainab: Some professions don’t allow that, and then women are torn. They want to be at work but they want to be at home, and they have to then just choose. Not everyone can get the best of both worlds, but I think we’re lucky, we can. It’s not been easy. It’s definitely a struggle. The juggle is real.
Intro Voice: This is Dental Leaders, the podcast where you get to go one-on-one with emerging leaders in dentistry. Your hosts, Payman Langroudi and Prav Solanki.
Prav Solanki: Hey guys. Today we’ve got the pleasure of having Doctor Zainab with us today. You’ve probably come across her on Instagram by witnessing her amazing composite work. Today we’re just going to go a little bit deeper and understand who the real person is behind her Instagram profile. Zainab, I wonder if I can just ask a few questions about where it all started, where were you born, where did you grow up. What was it like growing up with, is it three, younger sisters?
Zainab: Three younger sisters. Yeah. I was born in Glasgow in Scotland to a mum and dad who were both actually in health care. A year after that my sister was born. We lived in Scotland for about seven years in a town called Paisley not far from Glasgow and then moved to London for a few years. Then when I was about 11 my mum who’s a dentist was offered a job in the Middle East in Oman to run a dental department in a new private hospital.
Zainab: She was really, really up for the venture, and, for her, her dream had always been to live in front of the sea, work in front of the sea, kind of that environment. She’d known the lifestyle there to be quite chilled out. We went.
Prav Solanki: How old were you then?
Prav Solanki: 11. Okay.
Zainab: The plan was that my father would come too, but he was in a consultant post here as a surgeon. Really stable, really quite happy in his job, and the job offers he was getting in Oman were a bit too far from home that would match the level he was at here. If he were to move with us, he would have had to not live at home anyway which defied the point.
Zainab: Three years in we decided to come back. We came back. It was also the time, it was time for GCSEs and it made sense that we just started that serious level of education here.
Prav Solanki: If I understand rightly, you moved away for three years.
Zainab: We moved away.
Prav Solanki: Without dad.
Zainab: Without dad. He came and went a lot, and we came and went a lot. It was really fun three years actually, the best three years of my life. Just living in the Middle East was amazing. The lifestyle is so relaxed. We start school at 7:30. We finish at 2:30, 3:00 max. Go to the beach. Everything’s just so relaxed. Mum’s literally where she wants to be in front of the sea and we just had such a good time. People are lovely. The lifestyle, everything’s open till late. You just feel like you’re on holiday but living there all the …
Zainab: Level of study, the level of education or the quality of education was really, really high. Actually, quite intense. If you failed your final year exams you’d have to retake the year. There was that pressure there. We went to an international school. Things were at a high level. We felt that pressure and from that sense, but it was compensated by the nice lifestyle.
Zainab: Then we came back. We came back after three years and just settled back. Then I did my GCSEs here in London, A levels and went to university, and have been here since. I was 14 when I came back.
Prav Solanki: What was that transition like when you came back in terms of the cultural environment being back with dad, I assume, and the education, the difference in education as well? If you can just summarise that.
Zainab: Coming back and being dad again was really nice. For him, especially, I think he really just wanted us back to just everyone settle back to the lifestyle that we had, the life we had here all together. Having said that, being a consultant surgeon he did locum a lot, and he had nights. For us, we were always used to him being back and forth and the nature of his work as a doctor was like that. Still, all being in the same home is always wonderful, isn’t it?
Zainab: Then in terms of settling back, to be very honest with you it was a bit gloomy. Because coming from that environment where everything’s just sunny and nice and relaxed, and here life is a bit more of a rat race. It took some time to adapt. I think we were all a bit upset about that aspect and missed it. At that age you kind of just adapt and get on with it. We were back at school and getting serious now about wanting to plan our futures and education and all of that.
Zainab: The education itself coming back actually it was quite … I came back when I was joining year 10. A lot of the subjects were kind of, I’d already studied them in Oman. I felt a bit like one step ahead. Then comes in all the examining boards and the nature of trying to revise for exams, and then the pressure was just on. It’s all about getting the grades and planning what I wanted to do. I was very clear I wanted to do dentistry.
Payman L: When did you decide that?
Zainab: I literally grew up with my mum being a dentist. It was sometimes my afterschool club. We’d get dropped off there or she’d have to come back and see a patient. I spent a lot of time growing up in the dental practise. Revising, studying for exams, things like that, in the dental practise. That was like second home. For me, seeing that, it was always very interesting and actually, funny enough, my mum is really good at composite bonding. I vividly remember her building up fractured teeth and just thinking, “Wow.”
Zainab: She would do it really probably in different techniques to now, but really, really effectively, quickly, and it just looked like magic. I was like, “Wow. I want to be able to do that.” Then what was really nice and what really inspired me, she was a big inspiration, was that she just was always so calm about everything. She made it look like it wasn’t particularly stressful. She was enjoying it and she was passionate about it and that always came across. That definitely, I feel, was an influence. I’d say really young. I can’t put my finger on it but well before GCSEs.
Prav Solanki: Exam time, school time, were you a swotty kid? Were you a grafter or were you just naturally gifted and smart and clever?
Zainab: I’m not sure. I definitely did work hard. My study style is to concentrate really, really heavily on something, rather than scan everything and try and absorb a lot of things at the same time. I dive into something. When I’m studying I take long, I take hours and hours to cover a subject, because I won’t go onto the next page till I’ve mastered that page. That was my study style. I’d say I’m a concentrator.
Prav Solanki: From my own cultural background, it was always destined that we would go into health care because it’s what our father wanted for us and wanted more from us than he got out of life, which was shopkeeper and taxi driver, and he worked so hard to put us through school. Was there ever any of that pressure on you to go into health care or at least to follow a certain stereotypical career path?
Zainab: I don’t remember it being verbalised. I think it came from me. I think maybe my mum was secretly relieved because she was so into it. I don’t remember it ever being something that was talked about as something that we should pursue. I do remember when I had decided on dentistry, my dad was a bit like, “But why not medicine?” There was this competition between the two.
Payman L: What did the other three end up doing?
Zainab: The one sister who’s directly younger than me, Ustra, did do dentistry as well. The third one did business and politics, and then the fourth one did dentistry and she recently qualified. Three of us are dentists. It wasn’t something that they pushed on us at all. No.
Prav Solanki: Moving on from obviously wanting to be a dentist and now being where you are today, was it always cosmetics that you were interested in? You mentioned that you saw, you all witnessed your mother doing amazing composites. Is that what initially got you started in cosmetics?
Zainab: That drew me towards it. It drew me towards the idea that this is a creative thing, and then what also drew me towards it was seeing my mum talk to patients a lot and build relationships. She really enjoyed those relationships. I’d see her chatting with them. That was a nice aspect of the work that I saw. I was really interested in biology and oral surgery.
Zainab: My mum actually went into the oral surgery pathway. She did a master’s in implants and went in that direction. I saw a lot of that. For me, to be honest, all of that was appealing for me. It wasn’t just the art. I didn’t know that I was going to go down the cosmetic points at that stage. I just was interested in everything.
Zainab: Then when I started university, I just wanted to be good at all of the disciplines. I took an interest in everything. Really only until about two years after qualifying did it crystallise that the one thing that really is fulfilling for me is really sculpting teeth and getting creative. That laboratory side. Not dentures, but that laboratory side where they’re looking at shapes of teeth and smile design. I’d look at people and see things that I wanted to change in their smiles.
Zainab: If I had a fractured tooth in a small child, rather than just doing a usual quick, I don’t want to say quick NHS, but you know what I mean. Rather than just a quick build up, I would sit there and really try and perfect it. That’s how I started practising . Nurses would comment at university as well. My final year case was a tooth wear case that needed full mouth rehabilitation. That’s quite advanced for a student.
Payman L: Where did you study?
Zainab: Kings. That was quite advanced for a student. I was thrown in the deep end with making a denture for this patient, root canals, perio surgery on him, and composites, upper and lower. That’s a lot for a final year case. I remember chasing Professor Stephen Dunne, literally chasing him around just trying to understand everything behind how to get this right.
Zainab: And reading. There were different views on this specific case. I had to then just make sense of it all myself. Out of all those parts, all those disciplines that were involved in his case, the bit that I really delved into was sculpting those composites and calling him back in to repolish and change the shape a bit. Nurses would come in and say, “This is going to be your thing. This is what you’re going to do.” I was like, “Yeah. I really enjoy this.”
Zainab: Then when I was in practise doing NHS dentistry, if, like I said, I had a fractured tooth, I’d just spend ages on it. Then the mother would say, “Can we see it? Look, are you proud of your art? Look, that’s lovely. Dah-dah dah.” There was always this thing, reinforcement from people who would see what I was doing, and say, “You look really passionate about that. This is probably something you should do more of.”
Zainab: Then it just grew from there and just really enjoyed that. I knew that I wanted to expand on it, and then I did more cosmetic courses.
Payman L: Did you always work at your mum’s practise, or did you work at other people’s practise?
Zainab: My first practise was the VT Practise in High Wycombe. I then stayed on for another nine months as an associate. It was about two hours from home at the time. I was driving back and forth and it was becoming quite tedious after nine months, eight, nine months. I then just thought, “It’s time to settle closer to home.” Then it was my mum’s practise. She had an NHS practise before this Harrow on the Hill one. I joined her NHS practise.
Zainab: She then started getting quite comforted by the fact that her daughters were now qualified dentists, quite confident, know what they’re doing. She started taking a little step back, slowly, slowly. It was actually at that point that she started planning her retirement. You know we came back from Oman, so she’s now in Oman. She retired and gone back. That was her dream. She’s built a home there.
Zainab: During that time that she was building that home, she was more and more busy with that, less and less involved in the practise. I was becoming more and more responsible for things. I began, I’d say, running or holding the fort of an NHS practise first about probably two or three years after qualifying, on the surface. I’d hold the fort in the sense that I was looking after things on the ground. She was still running the business, so to speak. I pursued a yearlong cosmetic dentistry course and then knew that I wanted to now advance my skills.
Prav Solanki: Who was that with?
Zainab: It was Professor Paul Tipton in Manchester. I’d go in once a month, travel in, and it just gave me a broad overview of cosmetic dentistry, crystallised that that was a path I was feeling really, really passionate about and wanted to excel in. She didn’t plan this, because she was retiring, but she just had a light-bulb moment where she was actually sitting in Café Café just opposite this dental, well, it wasn’t a dental practise at the time. It was just a remote building in Harrow on the Hill.
Zainab: She was kind of just getting a bit tired of running this NHS practise. My mum is one to always have projects. She just went and asked an estate agent, and she inquired about this place. She had a look at it, et cetera. Bottom line is, cut a long story short, she bought the place and set it up from scratch. Then she didn’t let us work there for a good few years. It was probably about three, four years before we were allowed to see patients there, because she wanted it to be really topnotch private dentistry, and we had to prove ourselves to her. It was very slowly, slowly. Then in 2013 I started working there properly.
Zainab: Ever since I’d say two years post-grad it’s been in my mum’s practises. She’s now sold the NHS one to somebody else. I just couldn’t see myself there for the long-term. The Harrow one she’s now sold to me.
Prav Solanki: What’s it like? I think your entry into business is completely different to everyone that we’ve spoke to traditionally, who have gone in, been very naive about business, and then started setting up a practise and learning all about the business of dentistry. Whereas it almost feels like since you were a child you were absorbing business by osmosis by doing your homework in the dental practise. Do you think a lot of the business acumen and knowledge, do you think that’s come from an early age just by observing your mother?
Zainab: You know what, I still don’t know how much business acumen I really do have. I feel like that’s an area that I’ve just landed into. I don’t think I’m very business-minded. I think I’ve been really patient-focused, patient-centred treatment. That’s my thing. I think that indirectly is what’s grown my … After mum retired, over the last three years I started just working really hard, but not because I wanted to make lots of money. It was because I was really into it.
Zainab: The bystander effect was that the clientele just grew. It was actually when I saw that it was growing that I felt confident enough to say, “I can buy this practise and keep it running, because I think I’ve grown the clientele here enough to keep it running well.” It wasn’t something, I don’t think I have a huge interest in business per se, or have an entrepreneurial spirit or anything like that really. It’s mainly the dentistry, and I think the effect of that is just that it’s grown well.
Zainab: My husband takes care of more of the business side than I do. I’m a really details person and I’ll get involved in everything, but financially he will make a lot of wise decisions. Whereas I will look at how people will perceive things or what branding it should have, branding should look, and things like that. It’s different.
Payman L: Running a business, owning a business has a financial aspect to it, but I wouldn’t say that’s the key aspect. Sorry.
Zainab: Well, not the way I see it in any case.
Payman L: The branding is a big, huge part of it. The way you handle your customers, your patients, and then the way you handle your people.
Zainab: That’s the crux.
Payman L: Your customers and your people really is the crux.
Zainab: Is the crux. That’s where my mind is.
Payman L: I know why you’re saying that you don’t think of yourself as a business person because you think of yourself as a dentist. You can be both. You can be both. It’s funny, because when Prav says it, he says it with a glow. In your world, business is a glowing thing, whereas I feel like Zainab doesn’t want to be known as a business person. She wants to be known as a doctor.
Zainab: It’s just that I don’t think in numbers. It may change, and I think I’d take pride in it still if it changed. I don’t have any qualm with it. It’s just that I just don’t have that way of …
Prav Solanki: I think you’ve probably nailed most aspects about business that a lot of dentists have to train and learn that you take for granted. For example, speaking to people, communicating, sales without selling, marketing. How much does Instagram influence your business? Does it generate new patients for you?
Zainab: It does, for sure.
Prav Solanki: You’re a marketer.
Payman L: Definitely.
Zainab: It’s how it’s ended up being. Yeah.
Prav Solanki: Marketing’s a huge aspect of running a business. I think a lot of this has probably come through osmosis and you are a successful businesswoman in your own right. I guess what you’re thinking about is patients come first and the detail in that.
Zainab: You’re right. Social media, it’s had a huge influence. I would say that it’s put the word out there. It has, and it’s essentially been a huge source of advertising. That’s it really. That’s been huge. People then know where you are, who you are, what you’re up to, the quality of your work, and it reaches far and wide. Definitely has been a big influence. I didn’t start it thinking it would be but it has.
Prav Solanki: When was the point, what was the turning point where you thought, “Crikey, this Instagram stuff is really working”? Was it after a month, a year, six months? What was the point where it was-
Zainab: No. It was about two years ago. I first started my Instagram about five years ago, four or five years ago or six maybe now. I’m losing track of time. I think two years ago is when I really noticed. I started posting more. When I first started out, I was just posting sporadically here and there, nothing really consistent. It was making a bit of a difference, but it was a small circle that it was exposed to.
Zainab: Then the following slowly, slowly grew. As it grew, the inquiries grew, and I got busier. I found it harder to post, but because I saw that it was helpful and because patients would come in and say, “I’ve seen this photo, can you tell me more about it? I’ve seen what you wrote in your caption. It was actually really informative. I hadn’t ever come across composite bonding.” I thought captions make a difference. Let’s explain this properly. I felt quite responsible about what I was sharing. I just started to think more about what to share and doing it whenever I could.
Zainab: I just gradually noticed that it was working. Patients would come and mention it. We have a feedback. In our registration forms in the practise, it says, “Where did you hear about the practise?” I’d see Instagram a lot, and I thought, “Wow. Actually this is really influential.” About two years ago.
Prav Solanki: Did that change your focus of how you was going to approach Instagram? Have you got a strategy, hashtags, pictures right-hand side, dentistry middle column, lifestyle, that sort of thing? Have you got a strategy or a-
Zainab: I do now.
Payman L: Yeah. I noticed that there’s noses and lips on the left-hand side.
Zainab: Yes. That’s it exactly.
Prav Solanki: Has that just come about by chance or have you learned the craft of Instagram and hacked the algorithm?
Zainab: I definitely haven’t hacked any algorithm. I’ve been hearing that there is an algorithm and I don’t quite know what it means. What happened is I was just posting without any themes. I had a lot to post, lots of content. I’d sit there and think, “I don’t know which one to post. Should I post this one or this one?” I’d look at my page. It just looked a bit messy. Being in aesthetic dentistry or aesthetic medicine you are all about being visual about things. I thought I really want to make this look neat.
Zainab: I’m doing lots of different things, and I don’t know how people will understand really how one minute I’m posting teeth and the next minute it’s a nose, and then the next minute it’s something else, and then randomly I’ll put something miscellaneous. I just thought, “Why don’t I just do a column, one of each?” It actually looked nicer and I just carried on doing it.
Prav Solanki: Wow. In terms of business now, where does the majority of your new patients come from? Is it still Instagram?
Zainab: Word of mouth, so families now. It’s the sisters and the mums. It just grows like that. Instagram has still been a big part of it because it’s reaching people further out who live far away, but I’m now seeing lots and lots of siblings and friends of friends and so on. As far as even, which is really nice, if a dental student comes and shadows, they’ll bring their mum next time. It’s really nice. It’s just growing in that way.
Prav Solanki: How much personal content do you put on there, like real life stuff? Do you put your personal life, what you’re up to, going here, or here on holiday, shopping there and that sort of stuff?
Zainab: I didn’t used to. I thought of it as this is just a professional page. I’ll just show my professional aspect and nothing really personal. Then friends of mine said, “Do you know, it would be nice if you just shared a bit about you.” Because I think people would like to see it. I’d ask patients, so they’d come in and I’d get to know them a bit, et cetera. They’d mention Instagram, and then they’d say, “I saw you were doing this or that.” I thought, “What do you think about it? Do you think I should share more personal stuff?” They’d say, “Yeah. Think it’s really nice for people to connect and see what you’re about.”
Zainab: I had that encouragement. I just thought, right, I’ll do little snippets. I’m still quite reserved, and it’s just still very much little snippets. I think slowly, slowly I’m willing to share a little bit more with time. It still is predominantly a professional page, and it will always, I think, just be snippets.
Payman L: We just had Linda Greenwall. She runs a group for women in dentistry. What’s your view on women in dentistry? Would you say it’s harder being a woman dentist than a man dentist?
Zainab: I haven’t experienced that yet. I was a little bit confused at first when I saw groups like that. I listened to what was being talked about and I understand that a lot of women have had difficult experiences. I can’t say that I have. I don’t know whether it’s just been lucky, or it could be that I’ve been oblivious to it at university and in my VT. When I see somebody being particularly difficult, I don’t necessarily assume it’s because I’m a woman.
Zainab: I just haven’t really felt like that, and I generally don’t have a victim mentality. I haven’t seen that. Maybe it’s a factor that I’ve been under my mother’s practise for a long time. I’ve still been exposed to five years at dental school and VT, two years, that’s a good seven years. I never experienced anything to be honest.
Payman L: Linda was saying that there aren’t enough women speakers. Have you noticed that? Have you thought about teaching, that sort of thing?
Zainab: I’ve been fortunate to have been asked to teach facial aesthetics. I’ve been doing that for the last five years. I would love to teach and speak more. I have noticed that there is a little imbalance, but only because it’s been highlighted. I wasn’t really focusing on it and noticing it much. It’s been highlighted more recently and I do agree that there is that. I think women should get out there more.
Zainab: I was talking to someone about this recently, and I can’t put my finger on the reason. I don’t want to necessarily think it’s because if women fall into this trap of feeling victimised, it’s not going to get much better. I think part of it is that women need to put themselves out there a bit more, so women need to put themselves forward and say, “I can do this. Would you like me to?”
Payman L: Women are less confident than men.
Zainab: I don’t know if it’s that. Because I think women have a lot of inner confidence. It’s a complex thing, and I think it comes from a combination of things. Partly women think I’m not sure I’ll be able to balance this with my life, if they’re particularly busy with home life and other things. I think although they think they can do it, they’re worried about rejection. I think that sometimes, and this is where now men’s mentality might come into things, is I think that there is this thing where women are thought to be nurturing, you know traditionally nurturing, home people, and although we’re successful dentists, et cetera, we’re quite happy not using our voice.
Zainab: There is this assumption that women don’t mind, but actually I think women have a lot to offer. I think that does need to change. There needs to be more of an emphasis on what women can deliver in our …
Prav Solanki: Do you think being a mother factors into that? Linda was talking earlier about being a mother, feeding the child, waking up early, waking up at night, running the practise. Eight days after giving birth she was in the practise, and just balancing all of that. Talk me through, you’re a mother. You’ve got one on the way in about 10 days time. Just talk us through how you balance all that and how that factors in your future success.
Zainab: It’s not easy. It’s really hard work. I work really, really, really, really hard, but I don’t know if I would have if I didn’t really enjoy the work. I think because I enjoy it and it gives me so much fulfilment, it’s become a part of my identity. For me to sit at home continuously for a whole year would be dampening down something that’s really there throughout, like really wanting to do something. I couldn’t do it.
Zainab: I tried to. I was at home for six months with my daughter, really enjoyed it. She’s my number one. It meant the world to me to have her. That constant feeding, that constant nappies, and so on, and just literally just being in that routine and not being able to talk to a child. At some point you just want to get out and do what you do.
Zainab: Seven months in I was really trying to get back to work and finding a support network to make it work. I just did it really, really gradually. It wasn’t easy. I nursed my baby for two years, but I still went to work. I just worked around everything. I think what’s beautiful about dentistry is that women have the option to work part-time, and then just build up and adapt according to your child’s needs. You can make it work. Some professions don’t allow that and then women are torn, and they want to be at work, but they want to be at home, and they have to then just choose.
Zainab: Not everyone can get the best of both worlds. I think we’re lucky, we can. It’s not been easy. It’s definitely a struggle. The juggle is real. It’s definitely tough.
Payman L: Zainab, I think it’s even happened to me. I’ve been a fat bald Iranian in Kent, in some little town in Kent I was the dentist. The guy would walk in expecting to see a dentist, what he thought was a dentist. I could see he was just sort of immediately thinking, “Oh, who’s this guy?” Have you had that happen, you have people come in and not expecting to see a woman in a headscarf as their dentist?
Zainab: I have had that. Yes.
Payman L: Go on. Tell us about that.
Zainab: I’ve had, and it’s not been verbalised, but you just get the vibe. I’ve had mainly men walk in, arms folded, and they just think, I don’t know what exactly they’re thinking. Either, “I don’t think she’s going to be able to help me.” Or maybe they don’t like the headscarf. I have no idea, but there’s something defensive there before we’ve even started talking.
Prav Solanki: You know exactly what it is.
Zainab: I’m not always sure. I’ve had vibes.
Payman L: I mean sometimes people are nervous when they come to, a lot of times.
Zainab: It could be that, so anxiety, for sure, is always one. Sometimes you just get the vibe. You can see the moment you have that eye contact there’s a thought …
Payman L: Visual cues.
Zainab: … in their mind. Once they’ve sat in the chair, and I’m really passionate about personal development. I’ve done lots of all of that stuff for the last, I’d say, about seven years. I am quite good at making a situation not about me and turning a situation around that can initially be awkward and proving that there’s a lot of value to come in this conversation or in this appointment.
Zainab: I can then within a few minutes see their hands relax and they start just listening to what I’m saying, and then the building of the trust. I’ve managed to overcome those moments. It’s never been something that’s limited me or actually put me off. I just get through it and manage to turn it around quite well. Actually they become quite loyal patients. I’ve never had an issue.
Payman L: It’s a good attitude to have on it though.
Zainab: Yeah. Because a lot of it is just perception, and it’s not what it is. You can turn it around just by showing who you are, rather than getting defensive and going in a bubble. There’s no point. Just you’re there to deliver something and let that shine.
Payman L: I think in the same way as when someone complains, you can turn them into your best patients by handling them correctly.
Payman L: The same way, if they come in with a minus feeling you can equal and opposite that.
Payman L: Tell me about your composite work, because I think in the end right now you’re here because of the fact that you’ve come up on our radar, on the Mini Smile Makeover with really beautiful composite work.
Zainab: Thank you.
Payman L: It really is. Do you feel like that can be taught? Do you feel like there’s a talent there?
Zainab: Yeah. I’m sure it can be taught.
Payman L: Because we grapple with this a lot. We teach 30 dentists a month on this subject.
Payman L: Some people are always scared that, “I don’t have the talent.” We’re always saying that if you follow the simple steps you can get there. What was your journey from the composite perspective?
Zainab: I’ve always had a background where my mum draws paintings and she used to encourage us. Art was always something we just found really fascinating. We’d love drawing and we were quite particular about things.
Payman L: Actually, some of your first Instagram posts were drawings of-
Zainab: Yeah. Were actually drawings.
Payman L: I saw that.
Zainab: I’m quite particular about how things are done in my hands. They need to be a certain way. When it came to composites, I think that it was literally just practise, practise, practise. Then I’d look at pictures, look at what’s this beautiful smile, what’s desirable. I shadowed a dentist in Beverly Hills, Dorfman, Doctor Dorfman. He had wall pictures, like you’ve got smiles here. He had lots of these. I’d look and just really absorb what was a beautiful smile, and then just try and recreate it.
Zainab: I had a slightly, well, you could say OCD approach towards a composite. If I was doing a tooth, I wouldn’t let the patient leave until I was really happy with it. I’d seat them up, have a look, check with the lips, check with everything. “Sorry. Can I just sit you back down? Can I just polish that bit a bit?” That was how I was doing it. Then the rewarding feeling of their reaction, and it’s addictive when patients are that happy about something.
Zainab: Then I just wanted to build on it. It was taught, at the same time, of course, because I went on the Paul Tipton course. Doctor Monique ran some of his courses at the time. This was 2012.
Payman L: When he was teaching Tipton’s … Yeah.
Zainab: When he was teaching us, so quite a long time ago, about seven years ago. We did composites then. We also had a day where lab technicians came in and we did wax ups. On that day, we all did wax ups, so four front teeth. The lab technician took mine and said, “I like this one.” There’s always that positive encouragement. Then it was experimenting with different instruments, finding that warming composite really makes such a difference. It just built up, and then photography.
Zainab: I’d take photos and I’d go home and I’d look, and I just wouldn’t like something. Then I’d know what I want to change next time. It was just building on all of that. It’s definitely a process, and I still have lots to learn, I’m sure, constantly. And capturing the line angles, and, yeah, definitely lots more to learn.
Payman L: What are your plans going forward?
Zainab: I want to continue doing what I’m doing, but just continue taking it to the next level each time. I am, where I am, really happy doing what I’m doing now. I just want to do more of it. I’ve recently done a course by Doctor Sam Jethwa, Bespoke Smile. What that was all about, it was translating minimally invasive dentistry into porcelain veneers, mainly so that we can deliver porcelain veneers in an ethical way so that we have the longevity without the staining and so on.
Zainab: That’s the pitfall, I think, just of composite. Although what I love about composite, what really drew me is I could transform someone’s smile in a completely additive way without drilling their teeth. Always felt ethical. Could sleep at night. Happy. Everyone’s happy. The staining over time for some patients who aren’t good with their diets is a limitation. If I can translate that ethical way or that minimally invasive way into delivering porcelain veneers, that’s what I want to start doing more of where applicable.
Prav Solanki: What’s the replacement time for composite veneers? I’ve had numerous conversations with either people who teach composite veneers or other dentists who do them. They say a big worry is that after three years or however long it is that they’re probably going to need redoing. I just want to get an idea in terms of how easy is it to redo a composite veneer or is that the time where porcelain kicks in?
Zainab: I would then just have to put it to a patient. I tell patients that it will last somewhere between three to seven years, and that it’s very dependent on your diet, your maintenance, how often you come in, eating habits. Do you grind your teeth? All the colourful things in their diet, but also how hard the foods are that they’re eating. I have that discussion and I think what I’ve found is it’s really variable and really does depend on all those things. I can never really truly predict when a composite’s going to need replacement. I just tell them-
Payman L: You also haven’t been around long enough to see your composites seven years.
Zainab: Yeah. Exactly. I’ve seen that over the last five years my rate of chips, fractures is not high but the staining is something I see a lot.
Payman L: Staining’s definitely the primary concern.
Zainab: That’s the primary thing. Yeah.
Payman L: Then obviously polishing is a big factor. The composite you use is a big factor, by the way.
Zainab: Yeah. This is something I’m learning and want to go into a bit more actually. At that point when it fails, it’s having that conversation again. I always warm them. There’s always we’ve got a consent form. I’m always warning them this is something that requires maintenance. When it chips, you’ll need to have it either replaced or repaired or look at plan B. That’s instilled into all consultations.
Payman L: When you say you want to do more of what you’re doing now, I mean that could be you want to open six more practises, or it could mean you want to-
Zainab: It’s the nature of my work. No. Just the clinical.
Payman L: You want to only do minimally invasive cosmetic dentistry yourself and let other people do other. Is that what you mean?
Zainab: Yeah. I want to continue doing minimally invasive dentistry, but really, really get a bit more transformative in my smiles. Apply more disciplines to my smile makeovers and expand on my facial aesthetics. I now do mainly facial aesthetics injectables and skin care. I’d like to expand a bit more. There’s so much more out there, but it’s a real …
Payman L: What, the lasers and things?
Zainab: There’s loads. Yeah. There’s loads. I’m not one to just try and do everything. Like I said, I want to master one thing before I go onto the next, which means I take my time. I don’t jump into things too quickly. My vision is to just become more of an expert in what I’m doing clinically. In terms of business and buying more practises, I don’t visualise it. I don’t visualise me buying many. I want this one to be really, really, really successful, fruitful, have the reputation it deserves and represent us really well.
Payman L: How many years out of college are you?
Zainab: Nine years.
Payman L: You seem to have a real head on your shoulders. Self-awareness firstly. Which is rare at your age. Also, you seem to be relaxed with your progress. A lot of times with people at your level, at your stage, there’s an impatience. You don’t seem to have that. You seem to be very relaxed in your skin.
Zainab: The reason is-
Payman L: What do you attribute that? Have you always been that way?
Zainab: I’ve always been that way. I think it’s partly the parenting, I think, I’ve had, that’s just constantly instilling confidence. Parents are amazing. They’re role models. I’ve seen them always be quite grounded, level-headed, patient. They have goals but they always instilled this idea of contentment.
Payman L: You say that, but my brother and me are totally different. His brother and him are totally different. Same parents.
Zainab: It’s true. That’s absolutely true. My sister and I are completely different. Absolutely. It’s just the way that I perceive things. Contentment is something that they always talk about. Then personal development’s something I literally dived into when I was about 25. I’m now 34. When I was there, oh gosh, it was just literally-
Payman L: Have you done programmes?
Payman L: What have you done?
Zainab: There’s one called The Landmark Forum.
Payman L: I’ve done that.
Zainab: Have you done it?
Payman L: Yeah. I’ve done that.
Zainab: What did you think?
Payman L: I didn’t like it.
Payman L: Yeah.
Zainab: I loved it.
Payman L: I got it. I got it.
Zainab: You got it.
Payman L: I got it. I understood it, and I’m running rackets. Yeah. Definitely. For those of you who’ve …
Zainab: For whoever else knows.
Payman L: Did you go master’s level …
Zainab: If you know, you know.
Payman L: … and all of the … Did you just keep on going?
Zainab: I did the advanced course.
Payman L: I found it a bit cultish.
Zainab: I get that. What I did is I chose what to take from it, and then what I felt wasn’t of value.
Payman L: What else?
Zainab: Essentially I found it really useful. I drew loads from it.
Payman L: It’s a nice way to delete your past and just go forward. I like the idea a lot. What else did you do?
Zainab: Other than Landmark Forum.
Payman L: Yeah.
Zainab: Well, Landmark Forum really was a big part of it. With the Landmark Forum it was a three day, as you know, three days. Then there’s 10 seminars that you do. For about three months every single week I’d go in, and then the advanced course. Then I just thought, “Right, now I’ve got these tools, I need to go out there and live it.” They wanted me to do the next step, and I just thought, “I’m at a stage where I now need to just go out there and use all this, this toolkit and see if it’s working.”
Zainab: It was. I was really quite happy with it. To be honest, it’s quite intense. I was quite drained from all those evenings there, days and evenings. It’s really intense, but the value I got from it was something that you do not forget. It’s like riding a bike. You don’t go back. They’re tools forever. Essentially, it was about trying to not delete. I get what you mean by delete the past.
Payman L: I wasn’t saying in a bad way.
Zainab: No. No. In a way that can be good, but it’s about choosing what you want to keep about your interpretations of yourself and getting rid of your limiting factors, your limiting thoughts, and then having a blank canvas, and then creating. How that manifested is you know how I gave the example it’s not about me in an interaction? If I choose it not to be.
Payman L: Mm-hmm.
Zainab: That’s the power I got, that actually someone there has got a story and how they’re perceiving me is that is the story. It’s not real. That allows me to filter out its significance completely. It’s mindfulness. Ultimately it all came back to mindfulness. Then I did lots of other little things, meditation, mindfulness, et cetera. To be honest, the value I’ve got most was actually the Landmark Forum.
Payman L: Have you done it?
Zainab: Then some reading, but the Landmark Forum-
Prav Solanki: Do you meditate now, or is that part of daily practise?
Zainab: I would like it to be but it’s not now. It was up until I had my three year old, and then she is my every spare minute.
Prav Solanki: Got you.
Zainab: It’s something that I should aspire to go back to, because it really does help to just take a few moments a day. Definitely.
Prav Solanki: What’s your routine like as a mother, wife, and practise owner and practitioner?
Payman L: How many days a week do you drill?
Zainab: I work four days a week. They’re pretty long days. Sometimes 10, 11 hour days.
Prav Solanki: You start at?
Zainab: Start at about 10:00. I got into this routine where at least I’d give her breakfast and do the morning thing with her, and then go to work. Because I start at 10:00, I could work a bit later. In 2018 I got into the habit of working routinely till about 8:00, 9:00 PM, and, to be honest, losing track of time, and just being really, really into it. Then I made a New Year’s resolution this year that I had to get more work-life balance. Now I aim to not see any patients past 6:00, sometimes it drags to 6:30, but then there’s recordkeeping, et cetera. Now I get home at a reasonable time. Which …
Prav Solanki: Which is?
Zainab: … for some is not reasonable. Compared to last year it is. It’s about 7:30.
Payman L: Your husband, Ahmad, what does he do? Same thing.
Zainab: Yeah. Ahmad’s different. He’s more of an early bird, so he starts at 8:00 and traditionally used to finish about 5:30, 6:30. Now that he’s joined Harrow, he’s still starting at 8:00 but finishing later. He’s working really hard. We’ve talked about trying to achieve more work-life balance now. Now that we have a second baby on the way, and we both need to cap it really. Normal, sociable hours, 5:30, 6:00-ish. That’s our goal. Then if it happens on the off day or we will allocate an evening per week, that’s fine, but it shouldn’t be every day.
Prav Solanki: What happens with the little one when you guys are at work? You see her in the morning, do the breakfast thing, and then, what is it, nursery support?
Zainab: This is in those four days, so what I did is Layla, I didn’t take her to nursery for three years. I was nagged to and advised to by in-laws and others. My feeling towards nursery was that she was too young to be in an environment where she was going to be floating around many others. I’d looked at the Department of Health psychologists and what they’ve said, and three is the optimum age, so I stuck to that. Up until three I wanted her to have that one-to-one, either me on my three days off or somebody really, really trusted and who’s bonded to her.
Zainab: That person was the nanny that we have. She has been like the Mrs Doubtfire of our house. A real support. Without her I don’t know whether I’d be doing what I’m doing. She started coming just one day a week when Layla was seven months old and bonded loads with her. Then slowly I built it into two days. I didn’t start doing four days until about 12 months ago. It was about three days for a while.
Zainab: They just really had a lovely bond. I could see that Layla was happy, and that gave me the comfort to carry on doing what I’m doing. The routine, where my husband came into this is in 2018 where I worked intensely he would come home before me, and he would take over. Sometimes he’d get her to bed. Sometimes he wouldn’t. Sometimes I’d arrive late and she’s still awake and I’ll just take over. It was just teamwork. You know what, there’s no recipe where it’s all perfect.
Zainab: I was saying this to someone the other day who was like, “I’m worried about how I’ll juggle and should I have children?” I said, “Of course just do it and then survive it.” Because you just make it work. We step in. Whoever is there will step in.
Prav Solanki: As a team.
Zainab: Yeah. As a team. Now that we both work the practise in the last seven months, I’m getting home before him, and now he’s taken the later evenings and doing things, so we’re just teamwork.
Payman L: What’s your top tip to someone considering buying a practise now? I know it’s a bit different because you bought your mum’s, but what’s your top tip about running a business as opposed to just working in one?
Zainab: I think choosing the right practise is a big thing. I had the choice to have bought my mum’s NHS practise. I wouldn’t have minded buying an NHS practise but I didn’t like the area. I didn’t think the clientele were the type of clientele that I could do the type of work I wanted to do on for many years.
Zainab: I think deciding what you want to do with the rest of your dental career, getting clear on what kind of treatments you want to offer is important. Because then you’ll choose the right area and I think the area really matters, and the type of clientele that will come in through the door. If you are quite entrepreneurial, don’t mind taking a step back and just having a business running, then you could worry less about that. If you want to be actively involved, you have to think about who you’re going to be seeing every day and whether you want to do those kind of treatments.
Zainab: I think that’s probably, for me, one of the main things I’m thinking of when you asked me that. Other than that, all the business, all the financial side, to be honest, quite alien to me. I would say get a really good accountant who advises you really well. Always, always think about your why. You mentioned a few things, and just going back to personal development, one of the things I got was any decision going forward I really have to think about my why.
Zainab: Even on social media, we touched on the value of social media. When it gets too much I’m always thinking, “Why? What is my social media about?” Because it can get really, really too much, as so many people are talking about this now. Any decision I always go back to my why. I would really advise people get to grips with understanding why they’re doing something, what’s the driving force, and that will crystallise a lot.
Prav Solanki: Do you ever get social media overload? You know you kind of feel like, “Someone’s left a comment. I’ve got to respond to this.” And all of a sudden before you know it you’ve got this overload and then you have that moment of clarity and think, “I better start living my real life now.” Do you ever experience that?
Zainab: Yeah. I think there was a phase where I was really active. The more active you get the more engagement you’re going to get, …
Prav Solanki: And the more business.
Zainab: … the inquiries, the more questions. Then you feel that you have a duty to answer those questions, and then it becomes too time consuming. Then you just think other things that are important need to come first. Then people get a bit annoyed that you haven’t replied yet. Then you just go back to your why. Why do I need to be that active? Is this giving me value or is this taking me away from what’s important? That comes and goes quite a lot actually, that conversation in my mind.
Prav Solanki: Is that like a conflicting battle? How do you switch off?
Prav Solanki: Because I have that sometimes that I’ll be at home. The one defining factor for me is I was on Facebook and my three year old came up to me and said, “Put your phone away daddy.” That was a real defining moment.
Prav Solanki: I thought to myself, “Well, I can just check my comments because she’s at the other side of the room,” but I wasn’t in the room with her if that makes sense. That was my why.
Payman L: I’m accused of that quite a lot as well.
Zainab: I was as well at one stage, and then I just realised she’s growing really, really quickly, and these moments, especially from working that much, these moments are precious. When I’m with her I just put my phone where I cannot see it. If she’s asleep I feel more at liberty. If she’s awake, then I just feel there’s loads of mum guilt, and then it just needs to be away. Actually, off the table even, just out of sight so that I’m not even tempted to check it. It’s not worth it.
Zainab: If you’ve got kids and they need you and your time with them is limited, then it’s not. It has its place and it’s good and it carries lots of value. Dentistry’s, I think, really changed because of social media. It’s changing a lot because of social media, and that’s just dentistry. The world-
Payman L: Good and bad.
Zainab: Good and bad. The whole world is changing because of it. It carries loads of value. It’s a place of influence. It’s a great platform, and we can use it really, really well, but not when it consumes us.
Payman L: Zainab have you read a book called Black Box Thinking?
Zainab: No. I haven’t.
Payman L: It’s about when a plane crashes they don’t assign blame. They want to just say what can we learn from the plane crash, and it actually relates it to medical. When there’s a mistake medically everyone tries to cover it up because that’s not the way we think about mistakes in medicine, and so we never learn from those mistakes. We’ve been asking people, if they want to share with us, what’s the biggest clinical mistake you’ve ever made?
Zainab: Thankfully nothing sinister. I have given anaesthetic on the wrong side of the mouth.
Payman L: Did you just explain it to the patient?
Zainab: I just explained it to the patient, and just said, “I’m so sorry. I’ve just numbed the wrong side.”
Payman L: It’s not bad in nine years.
Zainab: Thank God. Thank God. Touch wood. Again, even if it was a bigger mistake I think owning it. You just have to own it. We are human and just be really honest about it and apologise. Then reassure and say it doesn’t mean that we’ve caused any problems. It’s just I’m really sorry that you’re numb on the wrong side. I’m going to have to numb the other side now. That’s the only thing I can remember thus far.
Prav Solanki: Just one thing that we didn’t quite touch upon, you mentioned that you’re teaching facial aesthetics now. Who’s that for? What does that involve? Does it take up much time of yours?
Zainab: I teach for a company called Oris Medical who initially trained me six years ago. When they trained, actually I started facial aesthetics, didn’t think I was going to go that much into it. On the training course I was really intrigued and really loved it. Then just started treating my own patients, and it sort of just kicked off and the interest grew. Then about a year later they were recruiting, and they sent an email out to some of the delegates. I think they’d seen some of the work we were up to. That’s where I think I did begin sharing some of the work I was doing on social media.
Zainab: They asked if I’d had any teaching experience or what skills I could offer, or why I would be a good teacher, et cetera. I replied, and then they invited me for an interview and I came in. We had a chat and then they said, “Could you pretend you’re teaching someone now in front of us?” I did that. Then they said, “You’ve got the job.” I said, “Okay.” They said, “First come in on a day where you’re just watching how we teach and how we run the course.”
Zainab: I came in and actually it was really, really fun. I felt straight away part of the team. I began doing that. How it all started was once a month roughly, and then they wanted me to do more. They then expanded to run courses up in Leeds and they needed somebody to take all the products and lead the training. My sister had also, I got her on board and she started training as well. She was really interested. She was also practising and she loves teaching. She’s a great teacher too. She joined the team.
Zainab: There was a team of about five of us, and so Ustra and I, sisters, went up north and ran those Leeds courses for about a year. It was really good fun. We really enjoyed it. It was a big position of responsibility. Then they came back to the conclusion that they had more demand in London. We just continued running the London ones. Slowly, slowly some of the trainers either were having kids, well, I was one of them, had a kid. Took some time out, came back, and then Ustra had two children in this time, came back, et cetera.
Zainab: We were a really great team. Some of them lived really far away. Ustra moved up north. It ended up being that I’ve been one of their main lead trainers, the only London-based one for a while. Now I’m taking another little break, but hopefully be back.
Prav Solanki: Do you see teaching featuring heavily in your future?
Zainab: I really like teaching.
Prav Solanki: You enjoy it.
Zainab: I find it really rewarding. It’s really nice to see how people shift from that beginning stage of feeling vulnerable and clueless to suddenly this new skillset in quite a short time. That’s really rewarding. What’s nice and what I’ve learned from Oris Medical is the ethos there was really lovely, in that the support is ongoing. I still have delegates from the last five years still in touch with me, still ask me things, and we’re now colleagues. It’s really, really lovely. I do like it. I definitely see it as part of my future.
Prav Solanki: If you could do it all again, go back to school and fast forward till today, what would you change? What would be different along that path and what would have you done differently?
Zainab: I think the career pathway that I chose I still would have chosen, for sure. I think the timing I chose it would have been the same. If I was to tell my younger self something it would be probably stress less. Don’t get stressed. This is before I did all that personal development stuff, when I was an undergrad. I used to feel the heat, really feel the stress of dental school and all the pressures. I would have loved to have done personal development earlier. I think that’s something that I think is really invaluable.
Zainab: As professionals who deal with people and such intricate jobs that can be stressful, I think we need that toolkit. I would say that’s something I really, really am glad I did. My only regret is not doing it earlier, and I would recommend it to others.
Prav Solanki: It’s been a pleasure having you on our podcast today.
Zainab: Thank you.
Prav Solanki: Thank you so much for sharing your journey.
Payman L: Thank you so much.
Zainab: Thanks so much for having me.
Prav Solanki: Thank you.
Payman L: It’s been brilliant.
Zainab: Really enjoyed it. Thanks.
Payman L: Thanks.
Outro Voice: This is Dental Leaders, the podcast where you get to go one-on-one with emerging leaders in dentistry. Your hosts, Payman Langroudi and Prav Solanki.
Prav Solanki: Thanks for listening guys. Hope you enjoyed today’s episode. Make sure you tune in for future episodes. Hit subscribe in iTunes or Google Play or whatever platform it is. We really, really appreciate it if you would …
Payman L: Give us a six star rating.
Prav Solanki: Six star rating. That’s what I always leave my Uber driver.
Payman L: Thanks a lot guys.
Prav Solanki: Bye.