10 Under 10: Art of mending started early in life for Pennsylvania dentist

Travel partners: Saniya Setia, D.D.S., travels with her husband, Varun Arya, D.M.D., B.D.S., in Iceland. Photos courtesy of Dr. Setia.

Some folks are just born caretakers. They sense early on that someone must repair the broken among us, and they feel a natural urge to answer that call. Saniya Setia, D.D.S., is a prime example. Plenty of children “play doctor” and treat imaginary patients, but even the trees couldn’t escape Dr. Setia’s tiny, therapeutic hands.

“If I saw a branch was breaking or something, I would put a bandage on,” Dr. Setia said. “I could maybe find a photograph of me as a little kid putting bandages on trees or on my dolls.”

That early spirit of caretaking only grew with Dr. Setia, who has attained several top honors in her short career, including being named one of the 2023 ADA 10 Under 10 Award winners.

There is nature and then there is nurture, of course. One can’t discount the influence of seeing her father practice medicine as a radiologist while growing up in Chandigarh, India. Dr. Setia would commandeer her dad’s equipment.

“I would use my dad’s stethoscope,” she said. “I always wanted to be a doctor.”


Photo of Dr. Setia as child
Early learner: Saniya Setia, D.D.S., uses her dad's stethoscope for her dolls.

Her late mother also was a powerful influence.

“I grew up with a love of art,” Dr. Setia said. “My mom was an architect, so she really instilled a lot of artistic skill in us.”

Dr. Setia took art seriously.

“I was very creative growing up,” she said. “I was constantly doing some arts and crafts project that included sewing, making art books and lots of paintings with oil medium. I would represent my school in interschool art competitions and often win prizes.”

Her mother’s insight is how she started toward dentistry.

“I always wanted to be a doctor, but growing up — because of the artistic inclination that I had — my mom was the one who thought I would be a better dentist because, you know, in dentistry you can be very creative, and you work a lot with your hands,” Dr. Setia said. “I am forever grateful that my parents gave me the best guidance and inspiration to follow a career path that is so fulfilling and has given me the opportunity to explore my talent to its highest potential along with satisfying my desire to help the community through health care.”

Art is still in the picture though, as she paints today when there’s time. She uses art not only as a form of expression and relaxation but also as an act of philanthropy. 

“Now, I use more acrylic medium and paint large canvasses and donate them, so whichever organization I donate them to, they can raise money and support their organization financially, however they desire to,” she said.

Dr. Setia graduated at the top of her class from Gian Sagar Dental College in India, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in dental surgery right after high school. Not only was she distinguished in her college group, but she also drew recognition as one of the top students in the entire country.

“In India, you get an international certificate of merit if you have contributed significantly to dental literature, philanthropic activities and done exceptionally well in academics,” she said.


Photo of Dr. Setia at Pierre Fauchard Academy event
Leader: As president and chair of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Pierre Fauchard Academy, Saniya Setia, D.D.S., inducts new fellows into the organization.

Echoes from Dr. Setia’s caretaker inner child are apparent in her approach to dentistry. Not only does she contribute her art to worthy causes, but back in dental school, she also headed a student program to provide services to people in need.

“Apart from excelling in academics and working dynamically on research, I collected a team of dental students, and we would go to remote underprivileged schools in India that really didn’t have any access to care, and we would do a free dental evaluation for the children,” she said. “We would then invite them to come to our dental college and get required treatment done. We hosted various counseling sessions for children and parents about what they should bring for their lunch and how they could prevent caries with diet modification.”

Although Dr. Setia is very proud of her dental education in India, she set her sights on a career in America. While in dental school in India, she traveled for the first time to the U.S. for an externship at the University of California Los Angeles.

“It was a reaffirming experience,” she said.

The externship previewed the kind of rigor she anticipated and welcomed academically in furthering her education and career here.

“I visited a lot of dental schools and understood their international student advanced standing programs for foreign trained dentists,” Dr. Setia said. “I really liked some of the schools that had more requirements to graduate because that would give me more hands-on clinical experience.”

She found those qualities in the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine, from which she graduated in 2016 at the top of her class with an honorary induction into the Omicron Kappa Upsilon dental honor society. She has made several contributions to the field of dental education and research by co-authoring textbooks and contributing to peer-reviewed journals. She also serves as a reviewer for articles in various journals.

After completing her training in the U.S., Dr. Setia practiced at a federally qualified health center in Georgia that cared for patients who did not have dental insurance. She said she strives to serve the community by providing care to individuals in all walks of life through various philanthropic endeavors, but the health of women and children remains especially close to her heart. She designed and executed programs to help educate OB-GYN physicians and the community on oral health, sleep disordered breathing, lactation and child jaw development.  

Dr. Setia practiced in Atlanta for nearly five years. The city is where she met her husband, who is an oral surgeon. His career opportunity led them to call Pennsylvania home, and they settled in Mechanicsburg. Dr. Setia works for a group dental practice and runs Marysville Family Dentistry in Marysville, a small town in Pennsylvania where she has created a niche practice in cosmetic dentistry and full-mouth rehabilitations. She said she is proud to provide high-end access to oral care to this community.

“My husband has provided me a constant pillar of support and continued motivation to excel in clinical dentistry, continue to represent in various roles in organized dentistry and focus on the community I serve,” Dr. Setia said.


Photo of Dr. Setia golfing
Good game: Saniya Setia, D.D.S., golfs in Hawaii.

Currently, she serves on the membership committee and strategic forecasting task force of the Pennsylvania Dental Association. She has contributed her time to designing strategies to help engage members and increase membership. Dr. Setia was the co-founder and one of the first national leaders of the international student committee of the American Student Dental Association. She then completed a leadership program with the Georgia Dental Association and served on its public relations committee.

Dr. Setia serves as the president and chair of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Pierre Fauchard Academy. She was the youngest fellow to be inducted into the academy in 2017.

She also established and currently leads a study club for 18 dentists and dental specialists in the greater Harrisburg area in Pennsylvania that focuses on the enrichment of clinical skills, interdisciplinary patient management and practice management solutions.

“The focus is comprehensive treatment planning,” Dr. Setia said. “Basically, our group consists of orthodontists, oral surgeons and general dentists, and we talk about how we can plan for cases from a very comprehensive and interdisciplinary perspective. We are currently teaching a hands-on cosmetic workshop where dentists can learn diagnosis, treatment planning and care management of esthetic cases.”

Dr. Setia is active on the lecture circuit locally and internationally as well, teaching dentists about esthetic dentistry and sleep disordered breathing.

“Recently, I spoke at the Academy of General Dentistry conference in Las Vegas on esthetic dentistry and comprehensive case management,” she said.

She also gives her time to the Women in STEM club at the Mechanicsburg Area Middle School to help underprivileged girls gain confidence, accept failure and learn strategies that build leadership qualities, creativity and decision making.

“Success is not about the positive accomplishments, both monetary or fame, but learning from failures and the obstacles in that journey,” Dr. Setia said.

Her pastimes include painting, photography and outdoor activities, such as hiking and golfing. She and her husband love traveling.

“I’ve probably traveled to about 30 countries already,” she said. “Wherever we travel, we like to explore local cuisines, culture and golf courses there, too, because I’m an amateur golfer, so even if it’s like playing a nine-hole, we enjoy that quite a bit.”

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