DTA Future Trends Forum: Women in Dentistry
Exploring how gender will continue to impact the dental industry
Jonathan Landers, vice president, industry development for the Dental Trade Alliance (DTA), opened the recent DTA Future Trends Forum: Women in Dentistry by saying, “There is no doubt that the face of dentistry is changing, and the manufacturing community needs to recognize and adapt to that changing marketplace.”
The panel discussion, hosted by the DTA on February 19 at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago, featured five distinguished industry thought leaders outlining the demographic trends and gender shift that will be affecting the future of the dental profession. Panelists included Mary Beth Aichelmann-Reidy, DDS, associate professor and vice chair of the department of periodontics at the University of Maryland; Ann Battrell, MSDH, executive director of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association; Cecile Feldman, DMD, MBA, dean of the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine; Linda Niessen, DMD, MPH, MPP, dean, College of Dental Medicine, Nova Southeastern University; and Kathleen O’Loughlin, DMD, MPH, executive director/chief operating officer of the American Dental Association.
Armed with the latest statistics, the panel graphically illustrated that the trend in female dental school enrollment, which began in the 1980s, is now approaching a 50/50 male-to-female ratio. According to projections, the numbers of women entering and graduating from US dental schools will tip the male-to-female percentage balance of practicing dentists by the year 2020. Typically, Feldman pointed out, women graduate with less debt load than their male counterparts. “However, women practitioners earn a yearly net income that is some 36% less than their male peers, even though the ratio of men to women owning a dental practice is only slightly less in percentage: 90.6% male to 76.9% female,” said O’Loughlin. O’Loughlin also dispelled the popular myth that women dentists practice fewer hours than their male counterparts. “Despite the challenges women dental professionals face in balancing work and family life, women dentists practice less than 2 fewer hours a week compared to male dentists, who on average practice 35.0 hours a week.”
To further illustrate the rising impact of female domination on the profession, Bartell pointed to the numbers of women practicing in the dental hygiene segment of the industry. Of the nearly 7,000 registered hygienists in the United States, 98% are women, with a mean age of 43.4 years, nearly 40% working in solo dental practices. On the down side, most hygienists, she said, are not salaried, but rather are hourly employees working without benefits.
The message driven home by the panel to the audience, which was filled with manufacturer and supplier representatives, was that female dentists have different equipment and instrument needs and use different decision-making processes when purchasing products. Typically physically smaller than their male counterparts, a woman-dominated profession will demand operatory systems, equipment, and chairside instrumentation that is lighter, smaller, and more ergonomic to better fit women. Women, the panelists pointed out, also tend to be more socially conscious and are attracted to products that meet green/environmentally-friendly standards. They are also prone to evaluate and analyze their product choices in a much more thorough and comparative way, and require a sales approach that speaks to efficiency and problem solving in the practice.
In closing the lively 2-hour session, Landers said, “This dramatic demographic shift in our profession needs to be heeded by our members as a call to change and action.”