Women in Dentistry: Challenges and Opportunities

  • by Jackie Ulasewich Cullen
  • Oct 18, 2021
10-18-21_WomanDentists_BWomen are undeniably making their marks in the traditionally male-dominated industry of dentistry. Just a decade ago, about 24% of all dentists were women. Now that figure is closer to 35%, and the number of women graduating from dental school nearly equals men.1 While this is an excellent sign that the dental field is moving toward gender parity, the journey is far from over. The unfortunate truth is that women dentists still earn less on average than their male counterparts and often face other challenges that men do not.

Even though women have made tremendous strides in all areas of the workforce, men are still the majority when it comes to leadership. Dentistry is no exception, where women are woefully underrepresented in leadership, academically and professionally. The reason for this? In general, some women are still expected to pull most of the weight at home, which makes advancing their careers more challenging. Whereas most men can take advantage of traditional networking and marketing opportunities, some women may be more reluctant to do so because they take on more of the home and family responsibilities.2 Additionally, mentorship opportunities may not be as abundant for women as they are for men. Finding women dental professionals who are willing to share their experiences and marketing advice with their women colleagues can be difficult precisely because there are so few women in leadership positions. 

Fortunately, men are starting to understand the value that women bring to the workforce. The prevailing thought is no longer that women are taking men’s places — there is much more acceptance and professional respect. However, many women still feel the pressure of home life more than men do, and that can be a big hurdle to owning a practice. 

Marketing Your Practice as a Woman 

Gender bias is also a problem and can create issues for women in professional practice. Not only does gender bias influence how potential patients perceive a woman dentist, but also the way the dentist sees herself and how she advertises her practice. Often, women are hesitant to emphasize how they are different from their male counterparts, instead feeling compelled to try to assimilate to the status quo. 

Thankfully, as a society, we are becoming more inclusive and accepting of women in dentistry, embracing the differences between men and women, acknowledging that each has something to contribute to the profession. However, when a particular field has been dominated by men for nearly 150 years, eliminating bias altogether is no easy task. Fortunately, women are entering the dental field and supporting each other through professional and networking groups as well as mentorship programs. 

In addition, there are now more opportunities in marketing for women dentists. Whereas being a woman may have once been considered a drawback in dentistry, now it can be marketed as a strength. Because women are more likely to be juggling home and family responsibilities along with their professional practice, they are often more organized and know how to manage their time more effectively. This means they can typically be more focused and driven when it comes to perfecting their craft and growing the business. It is also true that women are generally viewed as being gentler than men, which is a real plus in the dental field, where so many patients experience dental anxiety. Women dentists have a reputation for being more empathetic toward patients and tend to spend more time with them.3 That can make a difference from a marketing standpoint and should be highlighted when focusing on your website copy, social media presence and other marketing efforts. 

When it comes to digital marketing, women tend to come across as more relatable than men, especially in videos. Precisely because women are perceived as empathetic and trustworthy, social media marketing can be a real boon for women dentists. Social media is where their natural personalities can shine through and where they can reach out to existing and potential patients on a more personal level to start building trust. 

Women dentists don’t need to heavily rely on “nontraditional” marketing channels — such as after-hours networking groups or service organizations that require a ton of time and potentially little results. There are many other ways to highlight their attributes to patients through digital marketing, and they can certainly compete at the same level as men — and even surpass them. 

Challenges still exist for women in dentistry, but more and better opportunities are opening, and it is up to women to take advantage of them. Various digital marketing channels help make the dental profession much more of a level playing field for women. Plus, there are many more supporting organizations available exclusively for women than ever before, such as Dental Entrepreneur Woman, Women in Dentistry and the American Association of Women Dentists, to name a few. As more and more women choose to become dentists, the challenges women face in the dental field will continue to diminish. 

Jackie Ulasewich Cullen is co-founder of My Dental Agency, a marketing company specializing in dental practice. To comment on this article, email impact@agd.org

1. Versaci, Mary Beth. “HPI: Women Make Up Growing Percentage of Dental Workforce.” ADANews, 30 March 2021, ada.org/en/publications/ada-news/2021-archive/march/ women-make-up-growing-percentage-of-dental-workforce. Accessed 5 Aug. 2021. 
2. Syrop, Jackie. “Talking With Women Who Are Forging New Paths in Dentistry.” Inside Dentistry, vol. 16, no. 2, Feb. 2020, aegisdentalnetwork.com/id/2020/02/talking-with-women-who-are-forging-new-paths-in-dentistry. Accessed 5 Aug. 2021. 
3. Needham, Stephanie. “The Shifting Paradigm of Dentistry: The Predominance of Women.” Dental Economics, 1 May 2017, dentaleconomics.com/macro-op-ed/article/16389709/ the-shifting-paradigm-of-dentistry-the-predominance-of-women. Accessed 5 Aug. 2021.