Dr. Armin

Engineering Small Smiles: 5 Questions with Pediatric Dentist Armin Aliefendic (B.S. 2011)

Armin Aliefendic’s post-grad path led him into pediatric dentistry, where he specializes in serving medically compromised, special health care needs, and cranial facial deformity patients. The 2011 alumnus owns his own practice, Just for Kids Dental, in Waxahachie, Texas.

Aliefendic was born in Bosnia. Fleeing the Bosnian War, his family relocated to Switzerland and Germany before eventually settling in Dallas when he was 10 years old. There, Aliefendic began his high school job at a pediatric dental office—the very same practice that he now owns and operates.

During his time at UT Austin, Aliefendic fondly remembers working as an engineering FIG mentor and tutor, as well as an impactful study abroad trip to France with former BME professor Dr. Randi Voss.

The former Longhorn is a proud alum. Even while later studying dentistry with the Texas A&M Health Science Center, Aliefendic says he preferred to call the Dallas school by its old name, the Baylor College of Dentistry, to avoid being labeled an Aggie.

We sat down with Aliefendic to learn more about his pediatric dental work, and how his experiences in biomedical engineering at UT Austin prepared him for success.

When did you decide dentistry was what you wanted to do?

I had been working for a pediatric dentist since I was 14. At first it was just a summer job, and then it turned into a summer and a winter job. Dr. Jon Ousley, my dentistry mentor who I worked for, he’s like my grandfather. I don’t have grandparents here in the U.S., but he’s as close as it gets. I talk to him every day.

It took me a couple of years at UT to realize I wanted to do something with my hands where I would still be able to interact with people. Every once in a while, Dr. Ousley would send a letter wishing me luck on my next organic chemistry exam, or text or call me and encourage me to go to dental school. I blew it off, until one day I was like, you know what? Maybe I do want to pursue dentistry!

How did your time in BME prepare you?

Pediatric dentistry is engineering in a small mouth. That’s all it is. It boils down to tooth movement, tooth decay (which is a biological process), forces on teeth, and how to fight these biological processes with pharmaceutical and mechanical methods.

With the BME program, I learned not only how to study but also how to process information. I learned how to categorize and prioritize things. It’s so weird. It translates to dentistry more than most people understand.

What should we all be doing to take care of our teeth, besides flossing?

Flossing every night really is key. You’ve got to floss every night, last thing before you go to bed. And using fluoridated toothpaste. I realize Austin has a pretty strong anti-fluoride movement, but I promise it works!

What’s most rewarding about your work in dentistry?

One of the reasons I chose pediatric dentistry is because there is a huge access to care problem for kids in Texas. Especially with medically compromised kids and children diagnosed with craniofacial deformities.

If you have a medically compromising condition or a craniofacial abnormality, some dentists are not comfortable seeing you because they don’t have the experience. These patients are often limited to one of the three big hospitals in Houston, San Antonio, or Dallas.

I’m proud to say I have trained in a place where I gained this experience, where the majority of my patients were medically compromised or craniofacial patients. My residency program was through Baylor, Texas Scottish Rite Hospital, and Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. I routinely saw patients with cardiac defects, cancer, sickle cell anemia, a lot of different conditions. Also, there are certain craniofacial deformities that require care through a craniofacial team, such as cleft lip/palate, Treacher Collins syndrome, Pierre Robin sequence, and hemifacial microsomia to name a few. The craniofacial team at Children’s Medical Center is one of the best in the region and I’m lucky enough to have operating room privileges there where I can treat my medically compromised patients under general anesthesia.

Don’t get me wrong, I see plenty of healthy kids too, but treating the medically compromised patients is the most rewarding.

How have your experiences as an immigrant from Bosnia impacted your career or education?

My parents are the hardest working people I know. My dad was an electrical engineer by trade in Bosnia. When we moved to Germany, they didn’t recognize his degree, so he began working on cars, which he had previously always done for fun. He built something out of nothing for us. My dad is still a car mechanic to this day and he has put my mother and I through school.

While in Germany, the big influx of refugees from the Yugoslav conflict led to an immigration crisis. The Germany government began asking people to leave or return to their home countries. My dad said, “I’ll be damned if we have to leave again because someone else is making us. We’re going to go ourselves.” My parents literally flipped a coin to decide between Australia and the U.S. as our next destination. (Spoiler: The US won the coin flip).

When we came to the U.S., we didn’t have anything. I watched my parents work so hard. My mom started off as a lunch lady for the school district and took college classes at night to get her bachelor’s degree. She then enrolled at Texas A&M Commerce (it’s okay, I know they are Aggies) where she earned her master’s degree, and eventually her PhD in education—all while working full time for the school district! She’s now an administrator for the Garland Independent School District, and she handles how technology is implemented into the K-12th grade curriculum. Earlier in 2018, she presented her research and educational coding curriculum to Susan Wojcicki (CEO of Youtube) and Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) in California. How cool is that?

Seeing my parents do that, I can’t complain about anything. They are the American dream.