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Women in dentistry, our time is now

June 27, 2023
"When I travel around the country and speak with students in dental schools, I look out at rooms full of women." Dentistry had been a male-dominated profession, but today, women are the majority.

When I graduated dental school in 2011, more than 50% of my class was female. Today, when I travel around the country and speak with students in dental schools on the East Coast, West Coast, and everywhere in between, I look out at rooms full of women. We are now the majority. As successive generations of future dentists graduate and enter the profession, it’s become clear that our time is now.

Leading the way

Leadership, too, is slowly starting to change to better reflect the true makeup of dentistry. The president of the American Student Dental Association, Shafa Nathani, a dental student at Tufts, and the president-elect of the American Dental Association, Dr. Linda Edgar, are both women. Dental Economics chief editor, Dr. Pamela Maragliano-Muniz, is too. The age of powerful women is in full effect. In her book, Climb Every Mountain: Dr. Linda’s Leadership Lessons, Dr. Edgar writes about multiple leadership lessons and challenges that she has faced during her career—not just as a doctor, but as a mother and athlete too. During one-on-one conversations I’ve had with her, she’s taught me that sometimes sheer determination and strong will can get you places that you never thought you could be, and that we are the ones who often place barriers on achieving our goals.

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I was fortunate to be able to work on her president-elect campaign in Houston in October 2022, and what struck me the most about her interactions with students, doctors, leaders, and staff alike was how relevant and relatable she was no matter who she was talking to. Our seat at the table comes with great responsibility, but we’ve earned it. The respect that our colleagues have commanded for years is respect that we’ve worked hard to attain, too.

Anything is attainable

While there will always be naysayers (yes, I have heard the age-old comments about a woman not being able to fulfill leadership responsibilities on a council or committee because of her age, work situation, or personal life), as Dr. Edgar has taught me, words like “can’t” and “impossible” should be deleted from our vocabularies. These are lessons that I try to impart upon the newest members of our profession. While there are situations we encounter that may be unique to us, I have found that our profession is becoming far more inviting and inclusive. Another amazing female role model in my life is my dental school best friend, Dr. Diana Nguyen. She is the division chair of clinical general dentistry at the University of California, San Francisco, and leads a team of educators and students with such grace and organization that she makes even stressful situations seem surmountable. Watching her navigate the world of dental academia has shown me, through a different lens than the one of organized dentistry and private practice, that with hard work and a clear goal in mind, anything is attainable. Believe in yourself and your abilities, conduct yourself in an ethical and kind way, and you will always win.

Editor's note: This article appeared in the June 2023 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.

About the Author

Amrita R. Patel, DDS, FICD, FPFA

Amrita R. Patel, DDS, FICD, FPFA, graduated from NYU College of Dentistry in 2011 and completed her residency at the Nassau University Medical Center. She is a general dentist in private practice with her father, endodontist Dr. Rohit Z. Patel, in Westchester County, New York. She chaired the New York State Dental Association New Dentist Committee and served as the new dentist representative on the ADA’s Council on Dental Benefit Plans for 2020-21. She is also among the recipients of the 2021 ADA 10 Under 10 Awards.

Updated June 27, 2022

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