Making the Most of the Growing Power of Women in the Dental Industry

In Dental Hygeine, Finding a Job, Inspiration, Motivating Women, She's an Entrepreneur by Tonya Lanthier

I believe there are many topics that are taboo in dentistry. In my 23 years as a dental hygienist, I have worked alongside mostly women. And I’ve discovered a topic that is seldom addressed– women judging other women.

The dental field is and has always been predominantly female.

Approximately 95% of all dental hygienists and dental assistants are women. But now, women are increasingly filling the top jobs in the previously male-dominated profession.

Right now, sixty percent of all practicing dentists under age 44 are women. This means that, as early as 2020, there are estimated to be more women dentists working in the field than men. This trend isn’t just in the United States; the percentage of women dentists is consistently rising across the globe.

It’s great to see more women attending dental school, taking on the traditionally male dominated leadership roles.

But with this new power comes new responsibility.

These changes happening in the dental industry leave me reflecting on the beginning of my dental journey.

When I was in my 20’s and 30’s, I was temping in multiple dental offices and I saw a lot of issues on the team level. I learned a lot of insightful lessons that have helped shape the person I am today and led to me to creating DentalPost.

I often worked in practices with women older than me, women who are now my age. So often they would say, “Oh, you are so young, tall, blonde and long legged.”

There was such an immediate emphasis put on my age, looks and weight, instead of first observing that I was smart, hardworking, kind, and a good person. Some of the issues we have in our offices start with how we view ourselves, which affects how we treat others. That kind of jealousy and judgment can make things needlessly harder both professionally, and emotionally.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who helped shatter many a glass ceiling, put it more bluntly: “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I do sometimes miss the appearance of my younger self. However, I realize what’s inside matters more. I’ve learned that you can add value to other people’s lives by using what is inside you, your gift. I recently started a women’s summit to help develop our leaders to be better, using what we’ve learned in the past to form a brighter future for women in our industry.

I have always tried to look past a person’s outward appearance and look for the value of their character instead. Character is much more impressive, and certainly longer lasting. I believe the development of one’s awareness, or emotional intelligence, is key.

Your outward appearance will only take you so far, and I am here to tell you that your mind sometimes lies to you. I challenge you to look deeper at a person when you feel like you must compete with them; when you are feeling like they are better, prettier, or smarter.

We often look at the outside without understanding the person on the inside. Imagine trying to assess the oral health of a patient without looking inside their mouth! How crazy is that?

Research says we make judgments about a person based on encounters we’ve had with someone who looks similar to that person.

The culture we were raised in plays a big part in the unconscious prejudice and snap judgments we sometimes make as well.

For example, let’s say you had a person with a tattoo rip you off one time. Your mind may trick you into thinking that anyone who looks that way cannot be trusted.

Our subconscious is always making judgments until we become more aware. So once you become more mindful, the next time you have a patient with a tattoo, you will be able to stop yourself from making these biased judgments and see the person they are on the inside.

Superficial judgments can involve any kind of stereotype.

Let’s say a girl who was wearing preppy clothing was rude to you. Next time you encounter a girl dressed the same way, your mind tells you that all girls who wear preppy clothing are rude. That’s just how our brains work. But evolving past our natural tendencies will help us see past that.

First step, become aware of this, and work to think differently. Push yourself to see beyond the picture your subconscious paints in your head. See the person for who they really are. Take a closer look at yourself when you catch yourself making these immediate judgments about others. Before judging others, take a look in the mirror. Discovering why you feel this way is important in preventing it from happening again.

Look deeper, look at the good of that person. Don’t just react to the outward picture, but look for their gifts. My motto has always been to ‘Look for the good.’

While you are at it, take a look at yourself as well. What is your gift?

We make these judgments with people we encounter, personal or professional. When it comes to women though, we are often too quick to criticize. In our industry, we work surrounded by women. We are in this together. So instead of tearing each other down based on assumptions and snap judgments, we should empower each other.

When we feel threatened or insecure in any way, we sometimes lash out by being mean to others because of how we feel about ourselves. I actually learned from those women who were mean to me, because it made me want to understand their behavior and become a better person who is more aware.

Next time you feel insecure, try to look for the good in the person you are encountering. Approach things from a place of love instead of fear. Give a compliment. Find something you like about them and share that with them. We talk about being good to each other, but being female is about being strong, caring, and loving one another. As women, we have great strengths and the ability to communicate and influence differently. Life is too short for anything less.