Dr. Rania Elbaz spent many years of her childhood moving around. Born in Egypt, her family moved to Nigeria, back to Egypt, and then to Canada, because of job opportunities that arose for her father.
In 1994, Elbaz settled in Merrick with her family, including her father, Youssef, mother, Zeinab, sister, Noha, and brother, Adam.
“I’ve lived in all these different places, but in the end, this feels the most like home,” said Elbaz, 33, who now lives in North Merrick with her husband, Zachary, a neonatologist, son, Amir, 3, a student at Twin Oaks Country Day School in Freeport, and daughter, Noora, who is 11 months old.
Elbaz, a Calhoun graduate, has practiced pediatric dentistry as an associate at Long Island offices. In early November, she will bring her practice home to Merrick.
“Merrick is such a fantastic place to be,” she said. “The school districts are great. It’s nice because you have really good opportunities here. It’s a nice place to raise a family.”
After graduating Calhoun in 1996, Elbaz attended Barnard College, a private women’s liberal arts school in Manhattan that is affiliated with Columbia University. She graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in biology, with a minor in political science. But she said she was unsure which profession she wanted to pursue. “All I knew is I wanted to work with kids,” she said. “It was between going into medicine or going into dentistry and working with kids in one capacity or another.”
Shortly after, Elbaz shadowed Bellmore dentist Laurie Litwin, who advised her to go into dentistry. “That’s what ultimately pushed me in that direction,” she said.
In 2006, Elbaz graduated from the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, one of the country’s top dental programs. Elbaz said she never doubted that she wanted to become a pediatric dentist. “I’ve always been very good with kids,” she said. “They’re just so innocent and joyful. It’s very rewarding.”
Elbaz, who sees patients as young as 1 year old, said she is aware of the fear that children associate with going to the dentist, but she said she hopes to change that perception. “We want to get them to the point where they look forward to coming and they’re excited to be there,” she said.
Elbaz said that she was afraid of the dentist as a child. “I hated the dentist as a kid,” she said. “I was scared of needles.
“I remember being held down and having a tooth extracted when I was very young,” Elbaz continued. “Because of that, I feel like I can take my own negative experiences and make sure that we’re building a generation of kids who are a lot more positive about their teeth and dental health.”
To help her patients feel comfortable, Elbaz said she makes up names for her dental instruments to put the children at ease. “We come up with creative names for everything and make up a story out of the whole experience, like we’re painting a princess on their tooth instead of putting the filling in,” she said.
“It’s just different ways to make it creative,” Elbaz continued, “and different ways to make that environment, which is so intimidating, less intimidating for the kids.”
Elbaz said that she had always wanted to work in Merrick, but could not find the right office until recently. For now, she will work select days of the week, sharing a space with another dentist. Her office is located in the first-floor suite of a house on Merrick Avenue, just south of Sacred Heart School.
Elbaz said she hopes to eventually find her own office farther south on Merrick Avenue, in the Merrick business district. “I love that downtown area, and I like that feeling of being there,” said Elbaz, who added that she used to frequent Via Roma pizzeria and restaurant for lunch while a student at Calhoun.
Elbaz will hold a “candy buy-back” in her new office on Nov. 2 from 3 to 7 p.m. Open to all children in the community, the event will aid Operation Gratitude, a nonprofit organization aiding U.S. troops overseas.