Meet Spelman graduate and pediatric dentist, Dr. Lezli Levene Harvell, DMD, who is also a busy mom of 5 beautiful girls. Mommynoire connected with Dr. Lezli after hearing about her Iconoclast Dinner Experience, a fundraiser scholarship for students from Jamaica and sub-Saharan African countries at Spelman College being held at the legendary James Beard House. Focused on philanthropy, in addition to her practice, we thought a conversation about her life as a pediatric dentist, as well as her connection to food and her fundraiser would be a great profile piece. Take a peek at her thoughts about oral health and childhood obesity. She also shares her excitement about her upcoming fundraiser, which celebrates black chefs, food, wine and spirits!
Dr. Lezli is the co-founder of Dental Kidz, a pediatric oral health company in Newark, NJ and the founder of The Dental Kidz Foundation, a not for profit organization that provides grants to support initiatives in education of females and initiatives in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (S.T.E.M.) education for under-represented minorities.
Mommynoire: Give our readers insight into your academic background.
Dr. Lezli Levene Harvell: I am Dr. Lezli Levene Harvell and I graduated from Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. After that, I went to Rutgers School of Dental Medicine and then I did my residency in pediatric dentistry at Bronx Lebanon Hospital in New York. I am also a board certified pediatric dentist.
Mommynoire: What made you interested in becoming a Pediatric Dentist?
Dr. Lezli Levene Harvell: In dental school, during our third year we begin to rotate different specialties. When I rotated through the pediatric dental clinic – it was rewarding. I actually didn’t think that I was going to like it. When people think about children and dentistry, those things don’t usually go together in a positive way. It was such a rewarding experience for me. I always had such a good time with the children and I looked forward to it every week. There weren’t many students of color at my dental school providing healthcare and the children that came to the school were primarily bussed in from the Newark Public Schools. My family and I were living in Newark and I really felt that the kids connected with me – like I was their Doc McStuffins. That was a huge moment for me in dental school – having that connection with the children.
Mommynoire: Let’s talk about oral health. Why is it an important subject matter for parents and children?
Dr. Lezli Levene Harvell: I think when people think of teeth, they think of it as a separate part of the body. But actually oral health and overall health are not two distinct entities. What you put into your mouth will affect the rest of your body.It is proven that the same eating habits that cause cavities also cause childhood obesity. So, when I was in my residency I noticed that because I am a dentist many parents would look to me to tell them what their child should or shouldn’t eat – just to prevent cavities. I thought wow, I have a captive audience. When my husband and I opened our company, Dental Kidz, we used this as an opportunity to play an active role in helping parents develop healthy eating habits for their children . We go through nutritional counseling, we take surveys about what kinds of the things the kids are snacking on, we determine their body mass index, and we talk to them long term effects of childhood obesity. We talk to them about the entire picture and not just the mouth. I think because people look at the mouth as something separate, it becomes an after thought until it becomes a problem.
Mommynoire: You have 5 beautiful girls – how does a busy mom and dentist balance parenting and her career?
Dr. Lezli Levene Harvell: My husband is very hands on. We are not one of these households where the mother does everything. My husband and I are true partners. He knows how to do hair. You could not find a house where things are split down the middle like this household anymore. We play to our strengths and complement each other very well together. I think sometimes that’s where the balance problem happens – when you have one person doing too many things.
Mommynoire: You have a fundraiser coming up called the Iconoclast Dinner Experience, can you please share the details on this wonderful event?
Dr. Lezli Levene Harvell: A lot of people ask me about the fundraiser, considering I am a pediatric dentist. I think that I am not defined by any one aspect of my life. I am a mother, a pediatric dentist, and a person who enjoys food. I love food. I attend a lot of food and wine festivals. I will even travel to attend culinary events in the same way people will travel for a music or art festival. Throughout my experience, what I found was that there is an under representation of black chefs in the world of fine food. And so, being a member of the James Beard Foundation, which is like the Carnegie Hall of food, I’ve attended many of their events. My husband thought it would be amazing to have a dinner featuring exclusively talent of color at the James Beard House. Cooking at The James Beard House is invitation only and its a great honor to be invited to cook there. That house is iconic and symbolic of reaching the top of your craft as a chef. So this event is a celebration of chefs, food, wines, spirits and icons of color. We are celebrating them, but they are also going to be displaying their talents to the guests at the dinner. Truly, we are celebrating all of this talent of color in this iconic space.
For more on the Iconoclast Dinner Experience, please visit: www.iconoclastdinner.com