Bulletin of Dental Education

Women: The New Face of Leadership in Dental Education

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The rise of women in dental education is reflective of the greater national trend where more women are pushing the boundaries. With the surge of the “Me Too” and “Times Up” movements, a new spark of hope has ignited many women to take leadership positions in various industries across the country. However, before one can understand the impact that women are having today in the profession of dentistry, it is important to first understand the history of women in dental education.

“Institutional dental education began in the United States in 1840 when the state of Maryland chartered the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery.”1 And for 25 years, women were prohibited from officially being admitted to dental school. However, in 1865 after the Ohio College of Dental Surgery in Cincinnati, OH, waived its policy banning women applicants, Lucy Hobbs Taylor was admitted and in 1866, became the first American woman to earn the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery.2 Twenty-four years later in 1890, the first African-American woman, Ida Gray Nelson, earned her D.D.S. from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry in Ann Arbor, MI.3 In 1913, the first dental hygiene school was established by Alfred Fones, D.D.S., the Fones Clinic for Dental Hygienists, expanding dental education opportunities for all genders; and a year later in 1914, 27 women graduated as dental hygienists.4 One hundred thirty-five years after the formation of the first U.S. dental school, Jeanne Craig Sinkford, D.D.S., Ph.D., ADEA Senior Scholar-in-Residence, became the first U.S. woman dental school dean appointed to the Howard University School of Dentistry on July 1, 1975.5 More than four decades after Dr. Sinkford’s appointment, women now heavily populate the field of dentistry and dental education. 

According to the most recent trend data released by ADEA, 2016 marked the first year where the percentage of women dental school applicants outpaced men applicants. During the 2016 cycle, 50.2% of applicants self-identified as being a woman compared to 48.5% of applicants who self-identified as being a man.[6] Additionally, with the 2017 entering class, dental school enrollees were split almost evenly among genders—49.8% of first-time enrollees were women and 50.2% of first-time enrollees were men.7 Also, according to the American Dental Association’s most recent “Supply of Dentists in the U.S.” survey, of the 198,517 dentists in the United States, approximately 31% are women.8 The American Dental Hygienists’ Association reports via its “Oral Health Fact Sheet” that of the approximately 150,000 registered dental hygienist in the United States, 98% are women.9 Furthermore, with the appointment of Sharon M. Gordon, D.D.S., M.P.H., Ph.D., as the first woman appointed to serve as Dean of the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine, 22.4% of U.S. and Canadian dental schools now have women serving as dental school deans. 

ADEA remains committed to supporting gender equality through several initiatives that it promotes, including:

  • ADEA/Johnson & Johnson Healthcare Products/Enid Neidle Scholar-in-Residence. This fellowship provides the opportunity for a woman faculty member to spend a cumulative three-month period at ADEA headquarters in Washington, DC, working on gender-related issues that have personal and professional benefits. Twenty-five scholars have benefited from this program since its inception in 1994. Visit ADEA Enid Neidle Scholar-in-Residence online for more information.
  • Women Liaison Officers. This program was instituted to improve the academic environment for women faculty, staff and students by designating a point person in each school whose efforts are directed toward information exchange, networking and mentoring. The concept of Women Liaison Officers (WLOs) was originated by Dr. Jeanne Craig Sinkford, and the first WLOs were appointed by the dental school deans in 1992 with the majority of dental schools continuing to support WLOs at their dental institutions. 
  • 2019 ADEA International Women's Leadership Conference VI. This event, supported by the global dental education community, fosters global alliances and delivers leadership strategies that women can use to improve oral health and dental education in communities throughout the world. The 2019 ADEA International Women’s Leadership Conference VI will be held April 23-25, 2019 at the University of Brescia in Brescia, Italy. For more information, visit the 2019 ADEA Women’s Leadership Conference website.    
Published on September 12, 2018

1Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on the Future of Dental Education; Field MJ, editor. Dental Education at the Crossroads: Challenges and Change. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1995. At: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK232261/. Accessed: Aug. 9, 2018.  

2Kansas Historical Society. Lucy Hobbs Taylor. Topeka, KS; January 2016. At: https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/lucy-hobbs-taylor/15500. Accessed: Aug. 9, 2018. 

3University of Michigan Sindecuse Museum. Ida Gray Nelson Rollins. Ann Arbor, MI. At: www.dent.umich.edu/about-school/sindecuse-museum/ida-gray-nelson-rollins. Accessed: Aug. 10, 2018.

4Fones, Alfred C. The Origin and History of the Dental Hygienists. Special Commemorative Issue. The Journal of Dental Hygiene 2013, p. 58-62. At: https://jdh.adha.org/content/jdenthyg/87/suppl_1/local/complete-issue.pdf. Accessed: Aug. 10, 2018.

5Howard University: 150 Facts from 150 Years. No. 43 - Jeanne C. Sinkford. Washington, DC. At: https://150.howard.edu/facts/jeanne-c-sinkford. Accessed: Aug. 10, 2018.

6American Dental Education Association. U.S. Dental School Applicants and Enrollees, 2016 Entering Class. At: adea.org/data/student/. Accessed: Aug. 10, 2018.

7American Dental Education Association. U.S. Dental School Applicants and Enrollees, 2017 Entering Class. At: adea.org/data/students. Accessed: Aug. 10, 2018. 

8American Dental Association, Health Policy Institute. Supply of Dentists in the U.S.: 2001-2017. At: https://www.ada.org/en/science-research/health-policy-institute/data-center/supply-and-profile-of-dentists. Accessed: Aug. 27, 2018.

9American Dental Hygienists’ Association. Oral Health Fast Facts. At: https://www.adha.org/resources-docs/72210_Oral_Health_Fast_Facts_&_Stats.pdf. Accessed: Aug. 27, 2018.


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