Making a lasting impression through dental care

In a nod to International Women’s Day, Colonel (Rtd) Dr Mumtaj Nisah Abd Rahim talks about finding joy and fulfilment in creating a durable, positive impact in her patients’ lives. photos: AZMAN GHANI / The Star

It is hard to picture the glamorous Col (Rtd) Dr Mumtaj Nisah Abd Rahim – impeccably dressed for our shoot in chic apparel and exquisite jewellery – as a scruffy young child in the small fishing town of Mersing, Johor.

Yet, it was here in this seaside dwelling where Dr Mumtaj and her five siblings enjoyed a childhood surrounded by nature and where she discovered she had a calling in dentistry.

This early choice in life eventually led to an illustrious career which began in the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF), followed by milestones including the completion of a prestigious Cleft and Craniofacial Fellowship in the United Kingdom and a career as a consultant orthodontist, as well as philanthropic work in the field of cleft lip and palate.

“My parents, hardworking and humble individuals who owned a small business, toiled tirelessly to provide for our family. My childhood was steeped in the warmth of family, the simplicity of coastal life and the challenges of making ends meet in a town where opportunities were scarce,” says Dr Mumtaj, 45, who currently serves as a consultant orthodontist at Prince Court Medical Centre and as a visiting consultant at Omnia Dental Care.

“They instilled in me the values of perseverance and the belief that education held the key to a brighter future. Their relentless pursuit of a better life became the cornerstone of my aspirations, fueling my determination to excel in my chosen path,” says Dr Mumtaj.

“Dentistry wasn’t always my dream, but as I delved into the world of oral health and the profound impact it has on quality of life, I knew I had found my calling,” says Dr Mumtaj, who excelled in her studies and moved on to pursuing a Bachelor of Dental Surgery at the University of Malaya.

To get into UM, one of two dental schools at the time, competition was stiff as there were only 60 seats available, and after honing her foundational knowledge in her chosen field, she joined the army as a dental officer.

Life in the army

Dr Mumtaj proudly dedicated 18 years of her life to serving in MAF, a journey that saw her ascend from the rank of Captain to Colonel.Dr Mumtaj proudly dedicated 18 years of her life to serving in MAF, a journey that saw her ascend from the rank of Captain to Colonel.

“My tenure in the army as a dentist and orthodontist was an enriching and transformative chapter of my life,” says Dr Mumtaj.

“During this time, I had the privilege of providing dental care to our service personnel, their families and civilians alike. The camaraderie and the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of those who serve our nation were the highlights of my military career. The challenges of being on the move and witnessing the impact of dental issues in underprivileged communities further fuelled my determination to create a lasting impact through my work,” she adds.

She cites serving onboard ships deployed to China, Vietnam and South Korea as one of the highlights of her military tenure, as it was here where she provided crucial dental care to personnel, which contributed to bolstering international collaborations in military healthcare.

As she became a specialist orthodontist a few years later, her role within the military encompassed a diverse array of responsibilities.

From providing specialist orthodontic care to commanding the dental headquarters, she also spearheaded outreach initiatives that extended specialised orthodontic and cleft care services to numerous military hospitals and civilian health facilities across the country.

“Orthodontic care extends beyond cosmetic enhancements; it encompasses the intricate development of the craniofacial complex. This specialised form of dental treatment not only aims to create aesthetically pleasing smiles but also focuses on aligning the teeth and jaws to ensure proper functionality and overall oral health,” says Dr Mumtaj, whose contributions to military dental service were honoured with a conferment of a service medal, Kestaria Angkatan Tentera, by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

Dr Mumtaj humbly attributes her achievements to her mentors in the army.

“I owe a great deal of my success in my military career in dental services in MAF to the exceptional leadership of Maj Gen Datuk Dr Termidzi Junaidi and Maj Gen Datuk Dr Sukri Hussin. They have been truly fantastic role models, providing invaluable guidance throughout my journey,” she says.

Professional achievements and philanthropy

On her current work as a consultant orthodontist, Dr Mumtaj says, “Apart from the cosmetic alignment of teeth, I handle complex cases necessitating multidisciplinary approaches, managing orthodontics for cleft, craniofacial and orthognathic cases.”

“One of the most fascinating aspects of my work lies in my involvement as a visiting craniofacial orthodontist, attending joint multidisciplinary clinics where we collectively manage complex cleft and other craniofacial cases,” she adds.

Beyond her clinical role, Dr Mumtaj has found fulfilment in a part time position as a senior lecturer at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), imparting knowledge to budding orthodontists.

Additionally, Dr Mumtaj makes time to engage with the broader community through speaking engagements at conferences, as well as contributing articles to publications which has allowed her to advocate for the importance of orthodontic care and raise awareness about craniofacial conditions.

“In essence, my career isn’t just about orthodontics; it’s about weaving together a tapestry of compassion, expertise and advocacy to create healthier smiles and more importantly, to make a lasting, positive impact on the lives of those I have the privilege to serve,” she says.

While Dr Mumtaj is fully committed to her private dental practice and her role in guiding the next generation of orthodontists, it is volunteering that fuels her drive to do more for the community. Her involvement in an NGO focusing on cleft care – Cleft Lip & Palate Association Malaysia (Clapam) – has been a deeply personal and fulfilling endeavour.

“As a volunteer, I’ve had the privilege of working with an amazing team, providing support, education and advocacy for individuals and families affected by cleft lip and palate,” says Dr Mumtaj, who organises and participates in cleft forums, campaigns and conferences aimed at supporting the community.

In addition to her work with Clapam, Dr Mumtaj serves as a visiting consultant offering assistance to several cleft and craniofacial centres on a pro bono basis.

“It’s incredibly fulfilling to be able to contribute to the development of cleft care services in these centres. We have Cleft Awareness Month campaigns in October which aim to raise awareness about cleft care and the crucial work of Clapam and other stakeholders to help children and individuals with clefts nationwide,” says Dr Mumtaj.

Her involvement in an NGO focusing on cleft care – Cleft Lip & Palate Association Malaysia (Clapam) – has been a deeply personal and fulfilling endeavour.Her involvement in an NGO focusing on cleft care – Cleft Lip & Palate Association Malaysia (Clapam) – has been a deeply personal and fulfilling endeavour.

“One of the most humbling aspects of my journey has been the opportunity to provide orthodontic treatments to underprivileged cleft and craniofacial patients at no cost, especially those needing orthognathic surgeries,” she adds.

Apart from the fulfilment she experiences through philanthropy, she continues to pursue career milestones.

One of the highlights of her career in recent years was the completion of a Cleft and Craniofacial Fellowship at the renowned Great Ormond Street Hospital in the United Kingdom and the pursuit of advanced training in Orthodontics at King’s College London.

“As an accredited fellowship-trained Craniofacial Orthodontist, I have a myriad of opportunities to make a positive impact, particularly in the comprehensive and collaborative care for individuals with cleft and craniofacial conditions,” she says.

On a personal level, Dr Mumtaj says tying the knot last year has had a positive impact on her professional journey.

“Having this personal commitment has helped me feel more emotionally fulfilled and supported, and it’s had a positive effect on my work too. Marriage has taught me the importance of finding balance. By nurturing a healthy work-life balance, I have found renewed energy and motivation to excel in my career, while still enjoying my personal life,” she says.

“My husband, Dr Azmil Farid Zabir is incredibly loving, reliable, and supportive of everything I do. He’s my rock, my unwavering support and the very essence of what I call home,” adds Dr Mumtaj.

Championing equal opportunities for women and beyond

With International Women’s Day being celebrated in March, Dr Mumtaj shares with us her hopes for a more inclusive world for women.

“To achieve equal access to education, healthcare and growth opportunities for all women, society needs to foster an environment of respect and support for women’s aspirations,” she says.

“Inspiring inclusion in dentistry entails celebrating the achievements of women from trailblazing practitioners and researchers, to educators and industry leaders who are leaving behind footprints that inspire the next generation to dream bigger.”

Looking ahead, Dr Mumtaj is working on expanding efforts to reach more communities in need, with a focus on empowering children and education especially in those with special needs such as cleft and craniofacial care.

These include a collaboration with the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation (MOSTI) on pioneering initiatives to revolutionise oral healthcare, and further training at the Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard University.

“In a community that fosters a culture of compassion, I wish we could also nurture inclusivity within the field of oral healthcare, ensuring that everyone, regardless of background, has access to the benefits of specialised dental care, particularly a holistic cleft care.”

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