Dentistry: The Last Bastion of Sexism?

An NHS dentist performing an examination

Image via Wikipedia

I had to go to the dentist unexpectedly yesterday. Thankfully, nothing serious is wrong (read: no cavities, no abscesses, no root canals or fillings needed). But I noticed something about my dentist’s office.

When I walked in the office, I was greeted by a woman, sitting behind a counter with other women — the treatment plan and payment coordinators. When I was called back to the exam room, a woman called my name. She did the initial X-rays, and when she needed help, another woman came. It was like this at my last dentist’s office, too. All the receptionists, payment coordinators, hygienists, and other assistants were female. Which is fine, I’m glad to see women filling jobs that may have been considered men-only jobs 50 or 100 years ago.

But, when the dentist walked in the room, it was a man. And the observing student he introduced, trying to decide whether or not dental school is the way to go, was also a man. I have never had a female dentist nor been a patient in a dental practice with a female dentist.

When I talked about this with my husband, he said that when he was small, he went to a pediatric dental clinic, and there was a female dentist there. But she was the only example of a female dentist either of us could think of.

Why aren’t more dentists women? I’ve met lots of women doctors (I wouldn’t say half the doctors I meet are female, but it’s close) and not just in specialties like obstetrics/gynecology. There are certainly some doctors’ offices where the male doctor is assisted only by women, but not nearly as many as there used to be. What’s up with the dentist’s office?

I’d love to hear from my readers on this. What’s your experience with women & dentistry? If you are a female dentist, I’d love to hear your perspective on this and any barriers you have experienced. Male dentists, I’d love your perspective, too. (I was going to ask my dentist yesterday, but he spent a lot of time with me discussing my options for my teeth, time he didn’t have to spend — and I really appreciate it — so I didn’t want to take up more of his time asking irrelevant (to my teeth) questions.)

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  1. Thomas

     /  October 19, 2011

    You need to do some research. When I graduated dental school in 1991the 30 % of my class were women. Today it is more like 50%.
    What you should be asking is why are more men not filling the roles of dental hygienist or dental assistant? Northampton CC dental hygiene program has graduated 2 men in the last 15 years.

    • If so many women are graduating from dental school, where are they? I never said they weren’t in dental school. I certainly don’t see them practicing, however. And you do ask a good question — why aren’t men becoming hygienists? Why aren’t they filling the office support roles? My quick answer would be that ‘assistant’ type jobs are typically filled by women today.

      Perhaps my headline should have been: ‘Why the unequal roles for the sexes in dentists’ offices?’ Because I certainly don’t see the jobs being equally divided.

      • Bill

         /  September 14, 2013

        Brilliant! You went to one office that was run by a man, came to the conclusion that all/almost all practices are run by men, and when confronted with hard facts about women in dentistry you reject it out of hand.

      • Actually, I hope the comments show that I have been learning a lot about women in dentistry from my readers who have commented. And, perhaps it wasn’t clear in the original post, but I have never had a woman dentist work on my teeth and I don’t believe any have been employed by the practices I have been a patient at. Over the years, I have been a patient at 5 (or 7 if you count that 2 were sold to other dentists while I was a patient) dental practices in 3 states of the US and none of them, to the best of my knowledge, have employed female dentists.

  2. Jeannie

     /  January 26, 2012

    You ask, “Where are the women dentsits?” Many women go to dental school but only work part time. While I am a woman dentist who owns my own practice and work ‘full time’ with the support of my family, I don’t work 5-6 days a week as many of my male colleagues because I want to spend time with my family. Dentistry is great for people who want to work part time and still make a difference. And opening and running a dental practice is another full time job in and of itself, so many women dentists work as associates rather than solo.

    I worked with a male hygienists once. I had no problem with it, but the general public couldn’t get over it……

  3. PC

     /  May 31, 2013

    Perhaps this depends on your region? Or maybe it’s just the luck of the draw? After all, most people don’t go through dentists the way they go through movies on Netflix. I say this because upon reflection, all three of my dentists so far have been women (two from the same practice). And I didn’t really think anything of it.

    On the other hand, if I ever had a male hygienist, I think I would take note. (I’m a guy, by the way.)

    • Thanks for your thoughts, PC. I’m not sure what causes it — perhaps it is a regional thing.

  4. LL

     /  April 4, 2014

    A more disturbing reality of the dental field is the treatment of the dental assistants, hygienists, nurses, treatment coordinators and receptionists by their employers… male and female dentists and oral surgeons. These women work long hours, never getting paid overtime and rarely getting the minimum breaks stipulated by labor law. They never speak up as they fear being fired. They are in constant contact with anxious customers, uncooperative children, demanding dentists, sharp instruments, blood and body fluids for a pathetic wage of approx 14-20 dollars an hour. While many dentists treat their staff fairly well, most don’t. Staff working with a good employers stay, the others bounce around hoping to find reasonable work conditions. The market is flooded with these women so there is a great deal of competition. Offices with a constant turn over of staff are a good indication of unacceptable working conditions. There is a dental office popping up on every corner these days so completion for your mouth is huge. Banks loan dentists huge amounts of money as the are considered a good risk. This results in dentists being very competitive doing everything they can to make as much money as possible. Fraudulent billing and performing unnecessary treatment is a whole other story. People, beware of your dentist, male or female!

  5. Dilly Wagon

     /  May 30, 2016

    lol most dental schools are filled with 60% women now because it’s become a woman’s job. What does that mean? It means it’s an easy 9-5 job with minimal effort and stress and maximal pay and prestige. Time can be taken off whenever you want, and if you have a hard case you can just refer to anyone.

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