It’s hard to believe, but just 50 years ago, the idea of a female dentist was almost unheard of. In fact, according to the American Dental Association, in 1968 only 1 percent of dental students were women. Today that number hovers around 48 percent, or nearly half, but the number of practicing female dentists in America has yet to catch up. So, what’s behind these numbers, and what more can be done to encourage young women to enter the dental field?
“I think dentistry has become more appealing to women because it allows you to practice medicine but still have a life outside of work,” says Dr. Alexandra George, a dentist in Wexford, Pennsylvania. “That work-life balance is important, but hard to come by.”
Still, despite the high number of female dental students, only 29.8 percent of practicing dentists are women in America, and many women in dentistry see a large disparity in the numbers when it comes to dental professors, speakers and dentistry leadership positions.
“The industry as a whole is slowly coming around, but dental schools appear to be catching up a lot faster than the rest of the dental industry,” says George. “That may be because young women in America don’t have to face the same hurdles of previous generations. There’s nobody telling them they can’t be a dentist. They can see women out there practicing dentistry and they know they can do it, too.”
As far as the United States has come, the country is still trailing behind other modern countries. A recent article from Australia reports that 50.2 percent of the country’s practicing dentists are now women.
“Australia’s numbers give hope that here in America those numbers will increase, too,” says George.
George says she thinks as more young women see the opportunities dentistry has for them, and the more women they see practicing dentistry, the more they will consider a career in the industry.
“What other industry allows you to be a business owner and a doctor, work with all kinds of people, work with your hands, and still go home to your family at 6 o’clock?” asks George.
“Twenty years ago, a you might be surprised to see a female dentist, but today I don’t think that’s the case anymore. Rare, maybe – but not surprising.”