Dentistry has evolved significantly from the days of yore when oral hygiene was another service offered by your local barber. Today there are a total of eight specialties in the dentistry profession — the oral pathologist, orthodontist, prosthodontist, periodontist, endodontist, pediatric dentist, general dentist and oral surgeon –each with a very specific role in maintaining healthy dentition.
Dental hygienists, on the other hand, are tasked with preventing the various diseases common to the oral cavity. They typically provide education for patients and other services like calculus removal, which works to keep the periodontium, or gums, healthy.
Oral health care in the USA is entirely dependent on these professionals. Traditionally, dentistry was an industry with a largely male population. Things have changed here too and today’s workforce is now largely female and has evolved more than ever.
Lucy Hobbs Taylor was the first woman in America to become a dentist and open a clinic. The tale involves covert studies and secrecy because back in 1865, times were very different and the ambitious Ms. Taylor had been denied entry into the Eclectic College of Medicine for reasons of gender.
Feeling a bit dejected but undaunted, this pioneer of dentistry completed her dental training under the tutelage of the dean at Ohio College of Dental Surgery. This was all done in private and Lucy Hobbs Taylor received no degree for her efforts.
Her next step was to enter an apprenticeship with a male dentist, after which she felt the confidence and courage to be the first woman in America to open a dental practice. This all happened in the city of Cincinnati, Ohio in 1861.
The practice was a success, so much so that the Iowa State Dental Society granted Lucy Hobbs Taylor membership in 1865, stating that “the dental practice had nothing opposed to the instincts of women.” The following year the Ohio College of Dental Surgery gave her a degree as a dentist.
Lucy Hobbs Taylor was a powerful woman with courage and fortitude. She was a well-known suffragist and an educator, who went on to train her husband in dentistry. By the early 1900’s, more than 1,000 women were professionals practicing in the dental industry.
A Connecticut dentist named Dr. Albert C. Fones was the first to introduce the ideas of proper oral hygiene as the root solution to preventing diseases. He published an important guide to better hygiene called “Mouth Hygiene: a course of instruction for dental hygienists”. This book contains a detailed guide to maintaining what he referred to as “extreme hygiene”. His cousin became the first dental hygienist after he trained her in the detailed techniques of plaque and calculus removal.
The mainstream dentistry branch was very opposed to the notion, but Dr. Fones was undeterred and opened up a school for dental hygienists in the carriage shed behind his practice. Here he trained both men and women and in 1914, 27 women graduated from Dr. Fones’ dental hygiene school.
Today there are roughly:
- There are currently 185,000 dental hygienists in the US
- There are also 186,000 dentists practicing in the US
- 96% of dental hygienists are female
- 47% of dentists are female.
- That means there are 264,000 women, from a total of 373,000 dental care providers
While we can’t say for sure what these statistics fully implicate, some of the trends we see in dentistry are pretty obvious.
- Male practitioners will be more likely to open their own practices while women tend to work with others.
- Women hold less prominent positions in the fields of organized dentistry than men do
- Salaries are generally higher for male practitioners than their female counterparts.
- Women tend to work fewer hours — Only 75% of female dentists work full-time. 89% of male’s dentists are full-time.
- Women are often viewed as more empathetic than men in their practice
Women are also taking roles of greater leadership throughout the dental profession. There are women presidents in the American Academy of Periodontology, American Dental Assistants Association the American Academy for Oral Systemic Health. Actually, all the board members of the ADAA are all female.
“Today’s generation of female dentists will be the essential link that fully explores the many challenges being faced by women pioneering their specific brands of practicing dentistry.” Dr. Jacqui continues to say, “… the ultimate goals will be for women to effectively integrate the differences between the feminine and masculine practice into a single practice based on top-quality relations and holistic solutions. This will be another step to a grander richer tradition that enhances the capacities of men and women as healers.” Dr. Jacqui specializes in dental crowns in Jacksonville. She’s not only an exceptional female dentist who has been practicing in the field for over 30 years. She has also passed on her dental legacy to her son.
Women also make an important position in the associated industry of Public Health Dentistry. A stunning 14% of all presidents in the Association for Public Health Dentistry were female. More and more articles found in the Journal of Public Health are also being authored by female experts.
While no one can be sure what the effects of Feminization are, I believe it is a tenderness and compassion that is inherent in many, if not most women, that truly provides value to the dentist’s profession. Current trends in treatments and solutions tend to favor holistic remedies as this is not only a more effective set of solutions but also reduces costs.
Many people I have met, myself included, have commented on the different approaches women take to their practice. While the quality of care seems to have no relation to the gender of the practitioner, there are some things to be said in about the administration of care. Women tend to care less about the process than the execution of the process. This is something patients can feel and appreciate.