Think about your dentist when you were a child. Can you remember? If you can, I’d be willing to bet your dentist was a man. Am I right?

According to the ADA Health Policy Institute (HPI), 49 percent of U.S. dental school graduates in 2017 were women. That’s up from 37 percent in 1997. Forty years ago, only 7 percent of graduates were women. That means, give or take, only 7 percent of practicing dentists at that time were women.

The increasing number of women pursuing careers in dentistry is shifting the demographic makeup of the dental workforce. In 2018, 32 percent of all dentists were women, up from 16 percent in 2001. And by 2037, female dentists are expected to make up 46 percent of the dental workforce, according to HPI data.

"The increase in diversity in our profession is fantastic," said Dr. Jennifer Enos, Arizona Dental Association president-elect. "It allows many opportunities for growth and innovation with the varying backgrounds and perspectives." This diversity also allows for women dentists’ particular needs, such as balancing a career and family, to take more of a front-row seat.

Dr. Enos called on her own experience as a contrast. “I started in dentistry in 1999 as an assistant,” she said. “I knew one female dentist and there was very little ethnic diversity.”

Women in Dental Leadership

Dr. Enos said there’s a myriad of reasons why women should pursue leadership roles in organized dentistry, including giving back to the profession through advocacy and having a hand in improving public health.

In addition, the opportunity to gain perspective and experience, along with meeting with legislators, participating in volunteer events and attending member events, are invaluable, Dr. Enos said. "Ultimately, there’s the opportunity to continue to learn and grow," she said. "I hope more women continue to take the opportunities."

Later this year, Dr. Enos will be one of 13 women serving as presidents in their state dental association — the most in the ADA’s 160-year history.