Marissa Paz Israel, D.D.S. Engineer of Smiles
Marissa Paz Israel, D.D.S. Engineer of Smiles | Foto: Marissa Paz Israel, D.D.S. Engineer of Smiles

Marissa Paz Israel, D.D.S. Engineer of Smiles

Por: Magret Martinez

23, August, 2022 en Business Concept

Engineer of Smiles

Marissa Paz Israel, D.D.S. was preparing for a nursing career when fate stepped in. She was in her third year at Bicol University’s highly regarded nursing program in the city of Legaspi when she had a toothache. She went to her family dentist and decided on the spot that she wanted to be a dentist. “That toothache changed my life,” said Dr. Israel.

Marissa Paz Israel, D.D.S. Engineer of Smiles
Marissa Paz Israel, D.D.S. Engineer of Smiles

Marissa was born in Manila but grew up in Bicol Region in the town of Lake Buhi. Her grandparents owned a coconut plantation where they sold coconut oil to wholesalers for food products, shampoo, and soaps. It was a wonderful childhood which produced fond memories, one of which was her mother’s flavorful cooking. With plenty of coconut products, one of her favorite food was her mother’s special steamed fish cooked with delicious coconut oil. Lake Buhi is also the home of Tabios, the world’s smallest edible fish. To put it in perspective, 1 teaspoon holds more than 500 small Tabios. Her face lights up when she tells the story of how her mother would scoop out millions of these microscopic fish and steam or fry them with flour and egg. To this day, she still misses the food from the region.

Marissa’s father was in the farming business while her mother was a public elementary school teacher. They have a big family, Marissa was the oldest of four girls and their youngest was the only boy. Both of her parents also came from a big family, her father having seven siblings while her mother with six, who are all teachers.

She attended St. Bridget’s school, an all-girl school run by the Sacred Heart nuns who took her under their wings. In the 6th grade, she was chosen to sing the National Anthem of the Philippines in flag ceremonies. And in high school, she became a crowd favorite in the Glee Club, poetry readings, and acting in plays. She also formed a band called “The Voice” where she was the lead singer. They played at school and community events signing love songs by the Beatles and Frank Sinatra.

She calls herself a “mediocre student” but studied hard to pass her exams. Her father really wanted her to be a nurse so she applied and got into the nursing program at Bicol University. As part of the nursing program, her tuition is free but she had to do a lot of night shifts plus it is 2-hour bus ride from her home which is very tiring but she slogged on. And then, she got “the toothache”

Once her toothache was treated, she applied to the Centro Escolar University School of Dentistry, another all-girls school. She was a member of Alpha Phi Omega Sorority and did well in her grades. She took her dental board exams, which is an exam consisting of a practical section and oral questions. She successfully passed her boards at the age of 22. She is one of the youngest students to pass the dental exams at that time. She earned her dental license and her family helped scrape together 35,000 Philippine pesos to buy a group practice from the former dentist of President Ferdinand Marcos.

Marissa Paz Israel, D.D.S. Engineer of Smiles
Marissa Paz Israel, D.D.S. Engineer of Smiles

World Traveler

For two years, she saw clients herself but then recruited family members to help out with the practice. She got restless and wanted to see the world. She got a job with an international airline so she could fly for free all around Europe and the United States. She fell in love with the U.S. and decided to study for her dental board exams in San Francisco where her cousin was living.

Looking back, Marissa feels she made the right decision. She wanted to see the world and get out from her father’s shadow. She believed that dentistry practices were better in the U.S. And, like so many of us, she wanted to live the American Dream.

San Francisco Here I Come

A friend of Marissa was a dentist in San Francisco so she decided to try her luck in the City of St. Francis. After she landed, she got a job as a dental assistant with Dr. Robert Kulvin, the famous cosmetic dental surgeon. He was 75 years old at the time and was known as the “Dentist to the Stars.” He was a perfectionist but also temperamental and didn’t have a great bedside manner. He invented a revolutionary “Cosmetic Bonding” technique, which she learned from him and still does to this day.

After two years of working under Dr. Kulvin, she bought her own practice at the age of 29 and opened up her own practice at 2000 Van Ness Avenue where she hung her shingle for 7 years. The Dot.coms swarmed the city and gobbled up all the downtown office space so she, and many other small business owners, were displaced. So where to go? She decided to renovate the family home in Richmond District to accommodate her dental practice downstairs with patio doors opening up to tranquil views of her beautiful backyard garden. This flexibility allowed her to spend more time raising her two young girls and her three puppies.

Today, she is proud that her daughters have grown up to be smart, independent, and accomplished women. Her advice to her daughters were to work hard, be true to yourself, and be honest. Her oldest daughter, Rachel, lives in London, working in the tech space. And her youngest, Helen, is a marketing specialist in San Francisco.

Marissa Paz Israel, D.D.S. Engineer of Smiles
Marissa Paz Israel, D.D.S. Engineer of Smiles


Dr. Israel is a problem solver and continues to improve herself and her practice. One of her best friend’s daughter, who was 12 years old, could not pronounce words clearly and that intrigued her to find the root cause. She started to do more research and she sought advice from her network of experts.

One adult patient of hers was a midwife who described to Marissa a growing problem of many new born babies in the Bay Area. It is known as “Tongue-tie” syndrome (ankyloglossia), literally ties the baby’s tongue to the bottom of their mouth.

Marissa’s friend encouraged her to specialize in relieving tongue-tie syndrome. So she called the famous baby doctor, Dr. Bobby Gaheeri in Washington State and asked if she could learn from him. He agreed and she flew up and shadowed him for three days, watching him perform 20 cases per day using the latest laser technology (versus scalpel) to relieve a baby’s tongue-tie condition.

Marissa returned to San Francisco with a new sense of purpose. She is the first and only dentist in San Francisco that specializes in tongue-tie release for 2 days old to 3 months old. If a baby’s tongue is tied, he cannot suck properly, it’s painful for the mother when breastfeeding, the baby starts to lose weight, and is gassy all the time. To this day, she gets nice notes and holiday cards thanking her for helping their baby live a better life which makes her very happy.

She also specializes in full mouth reconstruction and cosmetic dentistry for functional reasons versus looks. She cares deeply about the health and well-being of her patients. She doesn’t believe in aggressively billing her clients and is more conservative in her prognosis and managing her clients’ expectations. She’s proud that her patients trust her and have been with her for many years.

Marissa Paz Israel, D.D.S. Engineer of Smiles
Marissa Paz Israel, D.D.S. Engineer of Smiles

Opera Lover

One of her patients was a photographer for the San Francisco Opera and Symphony and suggested Marissa to try out as a supernumerary for the opera company since one of the regulars was leaving the city. She tried out and made the cut 15 years ago and has been acting and dancing, pro bono, in opera performances ever since.

She just concluded her second stint performing in “Dream of the Red Chamber” which requires two months of rehearsal and seven performances. She reprised her role as one of the concubines of the Emperor.

Her favorite opera was “Moby Dick” where she starred as the little boy Pip. She had solo cameos and had to physically climb up and down on the set, which she enjoyed.

Her favorite opera singer is Luciano Pavarotti, for obvious reasons.


Her SF Opera experience gave her confidence as a performer and she likes being on stage. She decided to step up her artistic repertoire and conquer her stage freight of solo singing before audiences. In 2012, she took a cabaret singing class taught by Maria Diamond for eight and she was cured. She later joined a band at Presidio Golf and Concordia Club and started to perform again regularly.

Her favorite singer is Frank Sinatra. “He had the perfect tempo and style. No one has ever been able to replicate or surpass the talent of the great Frank Sinatra to this date!” she proclaims.

Free Time

When not working or performing, Marissa likes to travel. She cherishes her trips to London every Christmas to visit her daughter but also to see the holiday lights, decor, and festivities. She normally stays at the historic Claridge Hotel which is where kings and queens have stayed.

Her “wish list” dinner date would be with Prime Minister Boris Johnson because “He’s a raggedy Andy, has overcome many challenges, not stinky and has a great wit,” she said.

She’s also a self-proclaimed “foodie.” Her favorite San Francisco restaurants are Gary Danko, Le Chapeau and Kokkari Estiatorio. She’s also a Private Reserve member at Beringer Vineyards and Domaine Carneros to satisfy her libations.

And she cannot wait to be able to travel freely again, to visit her friends who are living all around the world: Spain, Germany, Scotland, Nepal, and Dubai are just a few countries she longs to visit again soon.

Marissa Paz Israel, D.D.S. Engineer ofMarissa Paz Israel, D.D.S. Engineer of Smiles Smiles
Marissa Paz Israel, D.D.S. Engineer of Smiles

Future Thoughts

Marissa is currently looking to share her practice with the right mentee who shares similar philosophies and values of providing excellent quality care to her patients. She believes that one’s mouth is the window to one’s soul. A person’s smile can tell a lot about that person’s health. She loves being a dentist and helping people in need, especially those in pain. Easing people’s suffering is her calling in life.

She also finds peace and solace in painting. She picked it up 20 years ago and likes to do impressionistic “Monet-style” creations. When she has dental cancellations, she doesn’t just sit around and waste time but goes upstairs to paint. She recently took up vegetable still-life paintings.

Thinking ahead to post retirement from dentistry, she also loves fashion so perhaps being a stylist is in her cards. Her favorite designer is Coco Chanel.