Johannesburg - Renowned Johannesburg dentist Dr. Norman Cahi built the foundations of his illustrious career on the words of acclaimed English naturalist John Ray, when he famously remarked that, “Beauty is power; a smile is its sword.”
For the past four decades, Cahi has dedicated his life to oral health care and as one of the pioneers for teeth whitening and cosmetic dentistry in South Africa, he has built up an impressive client base.
This includes the likes of some of the nation's biggest stars and beauty queens, whose autographed portraits are proudly displayed in the reception area at his practice in Johannesburg.
While he is now widely known as the “dentist to the stars”, the 60-year-old insists that the secret to his success has been giving people from all walks of life the best smile possible.
“The eyes are the windows to the soul but a smile is the window to your whole being because it tells the world who you are,” Cahi told The Saturday Star this week.
“Even with your mask on, you can see when someone is smiling because their eyes smile and crinkle and nothing signifies warmth like a good smile.”
Cahi, together with his daughter Chelsea and prosthodontist brother Emile, run the Cahi Dental & Prosthodontic Practice in Parktown North.
This week, they welcomed the Miss SA finalists ahead of the official pageant which will take place in Cape Town next month.
The Cahi’s had been working with the Miss SA foundation for about seven years when they were approached by beauty queen Claudia Henkel, who held the title in 2004 and has worked for the organisation, to provide dental care to the finalists.
“They wanted to align their brand with ours and I agreed and my decision has proven to be the correct one because we work so well together,” he said.
Cahi and his team has since been instrumental in the finalist’s success, and he believes that their smiles are a significant aspect of the beauty pageant.
“A smile signifies vitality, health, beauty and youthfulness so it's been wonderful to be part of this journey with the finalists because they all need pageant winning smiles.”
In order to get the finalists pageant ready, those at Cahi Dental & Prosthodontic Practice provide comprehensive dental care to the finalists, which span months ahead of the official ceremony.
“We do extensive assessments on the ladies’ entire mouth which includes their teeth, lips, cheeks and tongue and we even do X-rays to check the bone structures in their mouths.
“From our scans, we are able to do a diagnosis of each single tooth in their mouths and they also receive teeth cleaning as well as expert advice on home care regimes so that on the night of the pageant, they are all rocking these stunning bright, white and beautiful smiles.”
The likes of former Miss World Rolene Strauss and former Miss Universes Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters and Zozibini Tunzi have all received these dental treatments and oral health care assessments.
But Cahi believes that his initial work with teeth bleaching in the 1990s in South Africa was what attracted high profile clients to his practice.
He then went on to become one of the first dentists in the country to do teeth whitening, during a time when this dentistry trend was skyrocketing across the globe.
“I think that was the cornerstone of my career because I think that it was just on the cusp of when teeth whitening was becoming the major buzz word and the new thing to do.”
But while Cahi is proud to have contributed to the success of the nation’s beauty queens, celebrities and models, he insists that he doesn't just want to be a dentist to the rich and famous.
“Our logo is: ’Creating beautiful smiles, changing lives,’ and we do change lives,” he insisted.
“We don’t just work with the rich and famous but we also see ordinary people come to our practice.”
Cahi admitted that even just basic dentistry, let alone of a cosmetic nature, is too expensive for many South Africans to afford and that while his practice does see some patients on a pro-bono basis, they are more passionate about providing dental care to unprivileged children.
“We are acutely aware of how privileged we have been and that the position we are in comes from a higher being so we are passionate about our community outreach work and giving back.”
For this reason, each year the Cahi’s attend to the oral health of a group of orphaned youngsters free of charge.
Apart from the dental care and education they receive, the practice also includes the Miss SA finalists in the proceedings, as the beauty queens act as caregivers on the day.
“They take on a mother role and hold their little hands during the dental visit,” he said.
The Cahi’s also organise other festivities for the children to enjoy, including food and beverages as well as entertainment.
“The kids are given a fantastic day at our practice and they leave with their tummies full, their brains stimulated and they also get hugs and cuddles from the Miss SA finalists.”
But it’s not just children that Cahi has a soft spot for. The renowned dentist explained that he and his team create long and meaningful relationships with the Miss SA finalists they attend to, many of whom return and become lifelong clients, long after the pageant is over.
But for one contestant, who came in the top five in a recent pageant, the glitz and glamour of Miss SA was in stark contrast to her own life.
“As she was attempting to complete her dental care after the pageant, we found out that this former contestant could hardly afford the taxi fare to get to the practice.
“It broke our hearts because for two or three months before the pageant, she was treated like royalty and was provided with the best but after it was all over, she went back to her life which was so different to the one she experienced during the competition.”
The Cahi’s then decided to complete her dental work on a pro-bono basis and he stressed that all those who enter Miss SA do not necessarily come from an abundant background.
“Not all these girls have been afforded the luxury and privilege of a tertiary education and the Miss SA pageant simply acts as a springboard for these women, many of whom are hoping to escape from poverty and disadvantaged lifestyles.”
“For many, it's not all fun, laughter, ballroom gowns and tiaras but it's about hoping to improve their lives and those around them.”
Cahi might be coming towards retirement age but he insists that he still has many more working years ahead of him.
He is excited at the technological advancements being made in the dental industry, and hopes to be a pioneer for it in South Africa in the coming years.
“When I first qualified as a dentist, we were only doing silver fillings but now it is not necessary to walk around with gaps in your mouth.
“We are now able to make a dental digital design smile presentation and show patients what they can look like before we even start doing work on them, so I am excited about this and I’m still hoping to be in the game for more years to come.”