Dr. Lavasani Shares Her Dentistry Philosophy

Dr. Setareh Lavasani has been dubbed the “Queen of Radiology” and “The Selfie Queen,” by her students and colleagues. Events in her life, though, were not always ones to smile about.

The 2019 Incisal Edge 40 Under 40 honoree recently spoke with TheDailyFloss.com about her early career and the battle she raged with life-threatening illnesses in her 20s. The selfie-slinging (shown above, at far left), chihuahua-loving board-certified radiologist discussed how she persevered to become the professional she is today. 

Shown in NYC at the Incisal Edge 40 Under 40 photo session, clockwise from bottom left: Drs. Setareh Lavasani, Valerie Okehie, Corey Brick, Jeffrey T. Moon and Rebecca Pounds.
Courtesy Incisal Edge/Macrae Marran

The Pomona, California Oral and Maxillofacial Radiologist comes from a long line of dentists; as she says, “[It] runs in my family.” Her sister is an endodontist, her cousins and aunt, dentists. Dr. Lavasani jokes, “We have a mini dental convention of our own when we get together!”

Originally from Iran, she attended Ajman University of Science and Technology, earning her a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree. Her education did not stop there.

Dr. Lavasani moved to San Antonio, Texas to attend a radiology residency program at the University of Texas Health Science Center. There she would be given the most critical test of her life to date. She was diagnosed with breast cancer as soon as she received her admission to the radiology residency, a disease that affects 3.5 million people every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. This caused an interruption in her studies, but she did not give up.

After her treatments, Dr. Lavasani returned to her studies in San Antonio. Within a year, she was diagnosed with Acute Leukemia, a progressive and rare illness. Leukemias are cancers that start in cells, typically in bone marrow, and then quickly spread to other parts of the body, according to the American Cancer Society.

Thanks to the generosity of a donor, Dr. Lavasani received a life-saving bone marrow transplant, beating the 4 out of 5 mortality rate, and giving her a second chance at attaining her dreams. She had battled — and won — a fight for her life on two occasions.

Earlier this year, Dr. Setareh Lavasani celebrated her 10th cancer-free year.

“I learned to never lose hope and always try to look on the bright side, even when there is barely a single ray of light,” she said.

Dr. Setareh Lavasani

Determined not to let her health lower her spirits, Dr. Lavasani continued her radiology studies in San Antonio and graduated with a certificate in Oral & Maxillofacial Radiology and a Master’s in Dental Diagnostic Sciences. 

“I saw firsthand that the generous donation of a bone marrow saved my life, so I promised myself to focus on this cause (dentistry) and hopefully make a difference. I learned that this is what real life is about! I also realized that our time is so short, so I try to say more ‘thank yous’ and more ‘I love yous’ to people who matter to me and have shown me unconditional support all along.”

Dr. Setareh Lavasani

Dr. Lavasani received most of her support from her parents, family members and close friends who inspired her during treatment in school and throughout her career. Her mother was a star role model who raised two kids, earned a Ph.D. and became a well-known editor-in-chief in Iran.

Today, Dr. Lavasani is an associate professor and the Director of Oral Radiology & Advanced Imaging at Western University of Health Sciences’ College of Dental Medicine in Pomona, California.

Often, she travels for speaking engagements. Dr. Lavasani is an internationally recognized lecturer. She frequently speaks at California Dental Association (CDA), UCLA School of Dentistry Advanced Education in General Dentistry program and the American and International Academies of Oral Radiology. She is a fellow and speaker for the southern California Oral Pathology Society and the Global Dental Implant Academy (FGDIA).

Though amid her prestigious positions, she takes particular pride in her role as the “The Selfie Queen.” She smiles for her past, present and future. Now, she takes the philosophy gained through her experiences and expresses it with every student she meets.

“I find that I’m happiest when I’m teaching and sharing ideas with students and fellow colleagues. So, inside and outside of school, I try to focus and grow.”

Dr. Setareh Lavasani
At the Global Dental Implant Academy (GDIA) USA symposium 2018, Dr. Setareh Lavasani presented, received the exclusive #GDIA fellowship recognition, and won the first place prize for scientific poster presentation. (Photo courtesy Dr. Setareh Lavasani)

Dr. Lavasani is at a pinnacle of her career, ascending from the uncertainty of disease she fought. She teaches and encourages future dentists while following and sharing her virtue:

“Give back in any way you can and as small or large as you can. I think each of us, in one way or another, have a cause that is close to our hearts for any personal reason. I think giving in any way that is possible makes a huge difference in our sense of happiness and fulfillment.”

Dr. Setareh Lavasani