Monday, March 8, 2021

History of Women in Dentistry

Did you know that women make up approximately 50% of dental school graduates but only 30% of practicing dentists in the US identify as female?

And while at first glance that number might not seem impressive, it is when you consider how far women have come in the field of dentistry.

March is Women's History Month and to celebrate, we’re taking a trip through time to explore the journey our foremothers and she-pioneers have taken to get us to where we are today.

Emeline Roberts Jones

A native of New England, Dr. Jones married practicing dentist Daniel Jones in 1854 at the age of 18. Her husband believed that women had no place in dentistry due to their “frail and clumsy fingers”, but Emeline persisted.

She studied extractions and fillings in secret and by the time she turned 19, she had extracted and filled over a hundred teeth. After showing her husband what she was capable of, he invited her to work alongside him and in 1855, she became the first practicing female dentist in the United States.

Lucy Hobbs Taylor

Like Emeline, Lucy Hobbs Taylor was not content to give up on her dream of practicing dentistry. But at the time, dental programs were not admitting women. At least, not until Lucy came along.

After being denied entry into the Eclectic Medical College in Cincinnati, Dr. Taylor took her education into her own hands and reached out to the faculty for training. After studying under a supervisor from Eclectic Medical College, Lucy applied to the Ohio College of Dentistry. But because she was a woman, the college denied her entry. So again, she reached out to a member of the OCD’s faculty, Dr. Jonathon Taft to continue her education.

In 1861, Dr. Taylor opened her own practice in Cincinnati and began practicing dentistry. It was only then, after 7 years, that the Ohio College of Dental Surgery awarded her a DDS in 1866, making her the first woman to ever graduate from dental school.

Ida Gray

Born in Tennessee and orphaned as a child, Ida Gray quickly rose to prominence in the dental field. After moving to Ohio to live with her aunt, Dr. Gray took a job working in the dental office of Dr. Johnathon Taft (yep, the very same Jonathan Taft that tutored Lucy Hobbs Taylor!).

Under his tutelage, Ida was admitted to the University of Michigan School of Dentistry in 1887, graduating 3 years later with a DDS and became the first African American woman in the United States to do so!

M. Evangeline Jordan

Before Minnie, or “M” for short, started down the path toward dentistry, she worked as an elementary school teacher in California. So, it’s only natural that when she did discover a passion for oral healthcare, her efforts would be focused on children.

In 1909, M opened her own practice in the Los Angeles area and focused solely on the dental needs for children. She introduced ways to ease children’s fear of the dentist and became the first person to specialize in pediatric dentistry.

She also pioneered preventative care in children, publishing papers on the connection between diet and oral health and advocated for a healthier diet consisting of milk, whole grains, and vegetables. Sound familiar?

Jeanne C Sinkford

At the tender age of 16, Dr. Sinkford enrolled at Howard University. Originally pursing a degree in psychology and chemistry, Jeanne found her calling in dentistry and enrolled in Howard’s dental program.

After graduating, she went on to teach prosthodontics, work part time at her dental practice, and pursued a PhD in physiology at Northwestern. She rose up in the ranks, eventually chairing the prosthodontics department at Howard and completing a pediatric dentistry residency in 1975.

That same year, Dr. Sinkford was named the dean of the dental school at Howard University, becoming the first female dean at a US school of dentistry, where she remained for 16 years.

Kathleen O'Loughlin

In 2009, Dr. O’Loughlin was appointed the Executive Director of the American Dental Association, becoming the first woman to hold that position since its founding in 1859.

Before that, though, she had a rich career in the dental industry, graduating with her bachelor’s cum laude from Boston University in 1973 and a doctorate summa cum laude from Tufts in 1981. Currently, Dr. O’Loughlin holds faculty appointments at Tufts University and the University of Illinois at Chicago and previously served as president and CEO of Delta Dental of Massachusetts.

At the time of her acceptance as ADA’s executive director, Dr. O’Loughlin cited her father “who as a socially conscious practicing dentist was my role model and inspiration.” That inspiration continues today and her work as executive director has focused on improving public oral health in underserved communities.

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