Meet Dr. Joe Samona, Deaf Dentist

Dr. Joe Samona

Meet Dr. Joe Samona, Deaf Dentist

Joe Samona was born with bilateral sensorineural profound hearing loss.  Samona grew up with four older sisters and one of them is deaf as well.  Samona grew up speaking and lip reading and had limited knowledge of American Sign Language. Samona remembered being told that he was not intelligent or capable of becoming a doctor. These words crushed his confidence, and he did not believe in himself. 

Samona experienced academic challenges until college where he had to lipread; he only understood a third of what was being said in the classroom. He relied on the textbooks and slides in order to educate himself.

His sister, Heba, is 11 years older and Heba has been strongly involved in the deaf community. “Heba has pushed me to be involved in the deaf community when I was in high school and I did. That moment was a turning point for me in regards to my identity.  Ever since that moment, I started accepting my deafness as a part of who I am. My confidence has been restored and I know I can do anything I set my mind to with determination and hard work. Thanks to Heba, I am proud to be Deaf,” exclaimed Samona.

Having proper accommodations has allowed Samona to have an access to education, which sparked a motivation in Samona to be a dentist. With hard work and determination, Samona gained acceptance into dental school. The faculty had no experience working with a deaf student; Samona increased awareness of the Deaf culture among the students, faculty, and staff. Moving to present day, he greets his patients with his positive attitude and confidence, he has not had any issues with patients rejecting him as their provider.

“I have noticed that their [the patients’] smile have affected their communication with me… I wanted to be able to improve their oral health and their smile. Dentistry is mix of everything I love to do- learning science and using my hands to help others,” Samona explained.

“Do I ever wish that I was hearing? No. I would not change a single part of me. My deafness has shaped me into the person I am today.  Being deaf allows me to be a visual and hands-on person. American Sign Language has increased my manual dexterity,” said Samona.  Dentistry involves precise hand skills operating in a tiny mouth with a tiny mirror.  Samona is able to pay attention to little details and his patients have told him that he has gentle hands; they feel comfortable around Samona.

Deafness not only increased manual dexterity but Samona noticed he is a better communicator. Nonverbal communication such as eye contact, facial expressions, and body language are essential in great communication.

Samona struggled during his own dental appointments because of the dentists wearing a mask and the lack of interpreters being provided. He was never able to understand what was being said at the dentist’s office. “I would show up for the appointment and allow the dentist work on me being clueless,” said Samona. Samona along with several members in the deaf and hard of hearing community feel the same way as Samona did going to the dentist early in their life. As a result, some members did not see a dentist because of lack of communication.

When Samona was a dental student at the University of Michigan (Go Blue!), he started a research project relating to deaf and hard of hearing community with his mentor, Dr. Stephen Stefanc. Samona has taken notice that there was lack of videos about oral health education in American Sign Language. Samona is helping to change that problem. He created a 30 minute YouTube video about oral health education in American Sign Language. “As a deaf dentist, I wanted to be able to promote oral health education in deaf and hard of hearing community,” said Samona.

Samona uses his Instagram platform (@thedeafdentist) to promote oral health education and as well as connect with other aspiring deaf pre-dental students, dental students and dentists.

Samona currently practices in a private practice as an associate. His goal is to open his own private practice and promote oral health education in the deaf and hard of hearing community.

For others in a situation similar to Samona, he says, “My words of advice are that you can do anything you set your mind to with positive attitude, determination and hard effort. It’s never easy to reach that goal but that is what makes it fun. You will have some failures and setbacks where it seems impossible to reach your goals or dreams. What actually counts is that you get back up, learn from it and keep going.”