Dr. Dalia Sanchez Garcia seemed to be the Pied Piper of dentists in Miami Beach.
So much so, her daughter Georgina followed her into the profession even though she was on a completely different career path at the University of Miami on a physics and mathematics scholarship.
The two would become the first mother-daughter dental team registered with the American Dental Association, according to the Florida Dental Journal. The Garcias teamed in 1981 after the younger Garcia earned her degree in dentistry at the University of Pittsburgh.
“Everything about her influenced me,” Garcia said of her mother who died at 88 on June 14 at her home in North Miami.
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While on a summer break from UM, Garcia accepted her mother’s offer to help with chores in the office. Something she saw there caused her to change her career plans.
“There was this little boy,” Garcia said from the dental practice she still maintains in Miami Beach. “He must have been 5 or 6 and he met with my mom. And what I thought was interesting was the two of them and how they communicated. They were both barking at each other, they were obviously playing, and they communicated in such a nice way. That incident made me go into dental school. I always had doubts whether I would be a good dentist because my mom certainly did a lot more with her hands. She knitted. She sewed. She painted. All of those things. And I didn’t.”
Ultimately, Garcia believes mom knew best. “I love what I am doing,” she said.
The Garcias made their shared dental office on Lincoln Road a family-friendly environment. One wall was lined with photographs of children in the dentist chair flashing big smiles. A letter, tacked to the wall, handwritten by a young patient in the 1980s, read: “To the two best dentists ever. I love you both.”
Sanchez Garcia was moved. “I get to be friends with my patients. You become addicted to them,” she said in a 1987 Miami Herald profile of the dental duo.
She had another personal trick: “Particularly with children, she would hum as she was working on their mouths,” her son, Jose Garcia, said. “That would have a calming effect on the patient.”
Sanchez Garcia, born in Banes, Cuba, became a dentist on the island after earning her degree at the University of Havana in 1949. After Fidel Castro took power, she and her two children, Jose and Georgina, fled Cuba in 1961 and joined her late husband, Jose Garcia Gonzalez, who had already arrived in Miami.
For the next decade, Sanchez Garcia worked in dental offices as an aide and clerk until she could become certified to practice dentistry in the States.
Sanchez Garcia opened her practice in 1973 on Lincoln Road, where, for several years, she was the only woman dentist on the Beach. She also became the first woman president of the Miami Beach Dental Society in 1987. At the time, only three women were among its 91 members.
She served as a delegate to the Florida Dental Association. The Garcias also co-directed the Mount Sinai Medical Center Temporomandibular Joint Clinic.
But Miami Beach couldn’t quite contain Sanchez Garcia.
On a visit in 1988 to Honduras, where dental care was reserved for the few who could afford it, Sanchez Garcia was devastated at what she witnessed. She saw a makeshift dental office tucked inside an orphanage in Tegucigalpa stocked solely with a single chair, no lights, a smattering of instruments, and boiling water for sterilization.
“It touched me. I never saw that poverty in Cuba,” she said in a 1989 Herald profile. Sanchez Garcia helped open a part-time, free health clinic run by a handful of doctors and dentists affiliated with a Rotary Club in the Honduran capital. The Miami Beach Rotary Club pitched in when she agreed to help collect equipment and supplies.
Sanchez Garcia was also part of the Miami medical team at the United States base in Guantánamo.
“I loved the fact she was so involved in doing what she could for the community — raising funds, setting up dental clinics where people needed them,” said her son who is director of government relations for Pérez Art Museum Miami. “She had to balance kids, going off to college, her dental practices, rotary clubs, dental associations — and growing orchids. She loved that, too.”
As for that little boy all those years ago that led to the mother-daughter dentist duo?
“That little boy is still a patient of mine,” Garcia said. “He was also at the funeral.”