As a teen, Steve Milord dreamed of becoming an architect. But when his architecture teacher made fun of his teeth, he changed his mind.
“I decided, ‘I’m not going into architecture. This guy has no compassion,’” says Milord, who will graduate this month from Rutgers School of Dental Medicine. “Life has sort of chosen me for dentistry.”
Throughout childhood, Milord, of Brooklyn, was painfully self-conscious about his protruding teeth. The son of working class Haitian immigrants – his father was a doorman, his mother, a housekeeper – he didn’t get braces until he turned 19. He paid for them himself by working after-school jobs.
“Coming from where my parents came from, oral health wasn’t a priority,” he says.
Milord’s first visit to the dentist wasn’t until age 10, an experience that filled him with curiosity. “Even then I wondered why my teeth had changed position and wanted to know what the dentist was doing.”
Today, Milord, 30, has beautiful straight teeth but hasn’t forgotten the buck-toothed little boy he used to be. “I still see myself sometimes as that person with bad teeth,” he says. “It was a humbling experience and one reason I’m so passionate about dentistry.”
Milord, who hopes to become an oral surgeon, applied to Rutgers dental school after majoring in biology at Queens College because of the strong reputation of its clinical program, which offers students a range of experiences, from treating disabled patients to those with systemic diseases, like oral cancer. Students also travel abroad to treat underprivileged populations.
In March, Milord spent spring break working in a temporary clinic in the Dominican Republic, on the border of Haiti, where the school’s students have returned annually for four years. Many patients, including Haitians who were treated at the clinic, were used to having teeth pulled for dental problems that are easy to treat in the U.S, according to Milord.
It was rewarding, he says, to see their apprehension turn to relief. “You might have help they may need. They’ve suffered such massive neglect sometimes, the pain is atrocious,” he says.
One thing he finds so gratifying about dentistry is that treatment results are often quickly apparent.
“If someone is hurting, you can ameliorate it almost it immediately,” says Milord, who after graduation will receive postgraduate training in the Navy at a base in Virginia.
He believes dentistry can combine the planning skills needed for architecture with the personal connection to patients.
“When you look at someone’s teeth, you begin to learn their life story, from the young to the elderly,” he says. “If they’re stressed, maybe they’ll grind their teeth. If there is a serious nutrition problem, it will find expression in the oral cavity. There are a lot of things you can see. Dentistry allows you to have access to someone’s life. It’s a huge privilege.”