By Linda Thomas
Hometown Weekly Correspondent
Life was simple growing up in Damascus, Syria in the 1970s.
There were fewer responsibilities.
All then-12-year-old Bachar Saba thought about was summer breaks from school and the chance to be his father’s companion.
It was his first taste for dentistry.
Saba remembers taking his small bike to his dad’s office, riding it into the reception room around the center table while patients waited for their appointments.
“Those days were different,” he recalls. “I could never imagine having my kids doing the same nowadays.”
As he got older, he went from part-time companion to part-time dental assistant, learning all he could. He was fascinated with instruments and procedures. He’d go with his dad to the lab and step-by-step observe how crowns and dentures were built.
So, it came as no surprise when Saba decided to become a dentist.
He left Syria in 1994 at the age of 23 for America, leaving his family behind. He stayed in Montreal, Canada, and a year later moved to Boston to attend dental school.
“It was hard in the beginning,” he said, “especially that my second language was French and it was academically and socially challenging. I was fascinated with the educational program and was exposed to the North American system that differs from the European model.
“I fell in love with the cultural diversity Boston has to offer. It was an easy decision to set roots here and not move to another place.”
Saba has lived in Westwood for the past 11 years with his wife, Tamara, a pharmacist at a home infusion company, and their two “superstar” sons: Christopher (11), a sixth grader at the Thurston Middle School, and Alexander (9), a third grader at the Sheehan School.
And if you drive along Route 1A in Walpole and walk inside Suite 3 at 841 Main Street, you’ll see Saba doing what he loves best: being a dentist like his dad.
Office manager Gail Ferris has worked with Saba since he acquired the practice in 2007, and had also worked for the previous owner.
“From the very beginning, I felt Dr. Saba was someone I could work with,” Ferris said. “He struck me as a very humble individual. Over the years I’ve come to know what an amazing dentist he is with a solid work ethic.
“He loves what he does and takes great pride in his practice and the quality of the work he produces.”
It Started With Legos
Saba’s extended family lived in the same neighborhood in Damascus.
“Visiting an uncle meant crossing the street or walking a city block,” he said. “My grandparents were living in the same building and I used to finish my homework so I could play cards with my grandfather. And the older he was getting, the easier it was for me to win over him.
“All what we had to do was to be good in school. Friendships were deep and strong. As much as how much technology facilitated our daily lives, it made it somehow more complicated. Summers were fun with family trips to Europe almost every year, spending time with friends.
“The city was safe,” he said. “You could go anywhere and at any time. As we grew older, we attended parties and simple gatherings with friends. And just walking the streets of the neighborhood you would bump into a friend or a family member.”
Saba spent his primary education from kindergarten through high school in what was once known as the French School in Damascus, where he built his early friendships. He shares many beautiful memories, including the time he was a teenager joining the church choir that grew from 50 to 500 members.
During high school he supervised the younger sector of the choir and organized camping trips, summer activities and choir trainings, he said.
Even before he began working with his father, Saba was interested in toys that required hand skills, such as Legos. “And Lego, in my days, had no instruction sheets,” he said. “All what we had was a picture and a box full of pieces, and I used to spend hours trying to pick the right pieces to replicate the picture.”
Saba scored high in the Baccalaureate exams (the French high school system). He had the chance to choose any career path — from medicine to law to engineering. He even considered a career as a professional pilot.
But in his heart, he knew dentistry was his future.
He began his studies at the University of Damascus School of Dentistry in 1989. He and his classmates were constantly on the hunt for patients to treat in order to satisfy the school’s program requirements. “I was lucky enough to discover early in my dental training that I was starting to enjoy what I was learning,” he said, “My patients were referring their family members.”
He had access to his father’s office after hours. His father would be going home as he was beginning his shift treating patients. “I was getting more training,” he said, “and patients were getting free dental treatment. It was a win-win situation.”
While fulfilling the program requirements at the dental school in Damascus, Saba was also getting himself ready to prepare to take the American dental boards.
Like many immigrants, Saba spent a lot of time listening to American music and watching American movies, which greatly helped with his English skills.
“Little by little, I was getting ready for my dental endeavor outside Syria,” he said.
Saba earned his dental degree in Damascus in July 1994. That October, he left Syria and moved to Montreal, Canada, where he began the process of completing the American and Canadian national dental boards.
Then, in August 1995, he moved to Boston to attend Boston University’s Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine, where he completed two-and-a-half years of full-time study to earn a doctor of dental medicine.
He worked as a general dentist in two multi-specialty practices in Boston before acquiring his current dental practice in Walpole from a retiring dentist.
Eyad Salloum, who lives in Foxboro and also practices general dentistry, was a dental student and classmate at the University of Damascus School of Dentistry.
Though the two men grew up in the same neighborhood, they only met in dental school. The class was divided into small groups and they were paired in the same group. The two would often commute to school together.
Salloum recognized Saba for having graduated top of their class of 300.
“As the saying goes, ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,’” said Salloum, comparing Saba to his father. “Bachar is a very nice person and easy to talk to,” Salloum said. “Like his whole family, he opened his home and friendship to me.”
Saba’s father was also a professor in the operative department in the dental school at Damascus University.
“He was my teacher,” Salloum said of the elder Saba, “but at the same time, I used to call him uncle,” a custom in the Syrian culture showing respect for elders.
In 1998, Salloum was accepted at Tufts Dental School. He initially left Syria and moved to Michigan before coming to Boston.
“Coming from a place where I knew nobody and with very limited income as a student, Bachar opened his apartment for me to stay for a few weeks before I was able to find an apartment for myself.”
The World Of Digital Dentistry
As his career was advancing, he began to develop an interest in endodontic dentistry.
“I was a newlywed with a newborn on the way,” he said. “I sat home and talked to my wife to explore options on applying for specialty training in endodontics. It was a big decision that would change the dynamics of our family life.”
While his wife was supportive of the idea, by the time he started the application process, the opportunity came to acquire his current practice.
“I figured as much as I love the precision of root canal treatment and as much as I enjoy performing all phases of general dentistry, I decided to venture into the new office instead,” he said.
Saba strives to stay up-to-date in the latest technology. He attends numerous seminars and conferences throughout the country and is often asked to lecture and serve as an example to colleagues looking to join the world of digital dentistry.
In 2015, he was interviewed at a national conference in Texas on the technology of CAD/CAM dentistry, which is used to digitally design and manufacture dental restorations. That interview was broadcast on Sept. 16, 2015 on the jumbo screen at Gillette Stadium and watched by his sons.
Every Day Is A Blessing
Saba supports and sponsors many community organizations in Westwood and Walpole, including the fire and police departments, the Walpole Little League and Westwood High School —and he encourages his children to give back to the community.
In the summer of 2016, Saba participated in the Pan-Mass. Challenge ride for cancer with his two boys in support of his wife, who beat cancer with “courage” and “faith.”
It was a challenge, he said, but he held the family together while his wife was struggling with her illness and getting treatment.
Still, Saba has not forgotten that simple life growing up in Damascus, Syria.
His work ethic, strong religious beliefs and sense of family and pride are evident to all who know him.
“Any time you come from another country, you bring part of that culture and values with you,” Ferris said. “I saw how that has shaped who Dr. Saba is as a person, and how he treats people.”
As years passed and as the practice grew, so have his younger patients, some of whom have moved away but still return for the special care and treatment they experienced long ago.
“Being in the office is like being with my extended family,” Saba said. “The practice existed for 30 some years before I bought it and our patients are like family members — shifting from one generation to another.”
While he prides himself on seeing smiles on his patients’ faces and hearing their gratitude, he humbly admits: “My soccer skills are terrible.”
Editor’s Note: Linda Thomas writes for Hometown Weekly Publications, Inc. For comments and suggestions, she can be reached at email@example.com.