Busting Through Dentistry’s Glass Ceiling, by Sonya Dunbar, RDH, MHA & Melissa Turner, BASDH, RDHEP, EFDA

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It’s a new day in dentistry.
A day that is written by traditions of the past yet shaped by traditions of the future.

A day accelerated by technology and new ways of being.

A day brimming with diversity, inclusion, and innovative types of community.

Right now, dentistry is experiencing a moment of significant change…and women are leading the charge.

Female French philosopher and activist Simone deBeauvoir says it best, “One is not born a woman, but rather becomes one.” The same rings true within our beloved dental industry—we are not born powerful woman in dentistry; rather, we become powerful women through our choices.

Hello! We’re Sonya and Melissa, and we’re honored to share our story of passion, friendship and entrepreneurship with you! We’ve learned a lot through our collective 40-plus years in the dental industry, and we’ve especially learned that the choices we make as women—both individually and collectively—make us who we are and directly shape the future. Take a moment and consider what kind of woman you are today, and what kind of woman you want to become. What choices can you make today to lead yourself into a brighter future?

Here are three guiding principles that we both use every day in our personal and professional lives to help make choices that allow our dreams to become reality. Take a peek:

Collaborate and surround yourself with other powerful women who support you.

Own being a woman and embrace the entirety of who you are—the good, the bad, the ugly.

Carve your own path and free yourself from the constructs of tradition.

We love a good story, and we invite you to be a part of a larger conversation as we work together with the DeW community and women in dentistry to help usher in a bright future for our industry. In the meantime, we’d like to share our story with you and give you a glimpse into our everyday lives. We hope to join together in conversation with you soon!

Melissa Turner: Sonya! I’m so glad we’re able to sit down and share our unique story with the DeW community. I’ve been in dentistry almost 20 years, and I can say that it’s a very rewarding profession! Being a woman in dentistry is an amazing thing…but, honestly, being a woman in dentistry can have its own struggles, too. Our journey together over the past few years has been the most fun part of my career! Even though we both still have our own autonomy and personal brands, we also now own multiple businesses together. Remember when we first met?

Sonya Dunbar: How can I forget…it’s our running joke that we met online! The strange thing is, we were both looking for the one love we share which is our passion for mobile dentistry. Now let’s talk about the elephant in the room: how did a sexy Gen X-er become business partners with a sassy Millennial? Think about it—you live on the West Coast in Oregon, and I’m on the east coast in Florida. You’re a stay-at-home mother and gardener, and I’m an empty-nester and fashion diva! You’re white, and I am black. With that being said, I must add over the last year, we have had to have some heartfelt conversations that weren’t always comfortable—but yet necessary—which made our friendship and business partnership more resilient.

MT: You’re totally right. This last year has been quite interesting with what our industry and country have gone through. For as different as we may be, though, we’re also eerily similar in some ways, too. We’re both Type A, social extraverts, love the stage, and we know how to give each other space. We’re both vegan, obsessed with olives, The Office and all about proudly embracing femininity. Successful partnerships—whether a marriage, a life-long friendship, or a business partnership—always take work, courageous conversations and intentional sacrifice. Together, you and I have been in tears of joy and tears of sadness, and we’ve shared our deepest passions. Most of all, we know that we’re here to build each other up and support one another. There’s rarely a day that goes by where I don’t talk to you or text you!

SD: Who would have thought that a farm girl from Pennsylvania would be BFFS with a girl from the big city? We agree that business partnerships are like a game of chess—you’ve got to know the players. We know on any given day, we can each be any piece on the board as we navigate the strategy of entrepreneurship. I’ve learned that to win you have to be courageous enough to take a chance, confident enough to do it when no one believes in you, and creative enough to think outside the box. Now you know my secrets—be courageous, confident, and creative, and just like chess, every move must be intentional. Talking about being intentional, Melissa, you and I have faced diversity head on in dentistry, which makes us intentional about being part of the change that is on the horizon in dentistry. I am excited to be part of the evolving diversity in dentistry…I visualize dental meetings of the future laced with different culture, ethnicity and lifestyles leading and working together!

MT: You are spot on! We’ve definitely had to face diversity head on which has only made us more passionate. Now Sonya, if you’re all about diversity, I’m all about inclusion! It’s the yin and the yang. You can’t have one without the other. What I know is that the future of dentistry looks very different than today, and it’s going to take all of us working from different angles to make it a brighter future. Our female-dominated industry happens to be led by males right now, but we’re on the cusp of seeing this change since more females are graduating from dental school. I mean, just think about the natural changes that would accompany a female-led industry. Can you imagine a dental industry with better working hours for parents so we have time to drop off and pick our kids up at school? Can you imagine mandatory time blocked off in our schedules to pump breast milk—and not having to do it in a bathroom or car? Can you imagine a workplace filled with love, respect, and wellbeing initiatives?

SD: The good thing is, these changes will have a positive ripple effect on our patients. That is why I’m affectionately known as the Geriatric ToothfairyTM. My fight is to be a part of the change needed to improve the oral care conditions of aging adults in long term care facilities. My win is to be an advocate for policy changes in all long-term care facilities. It is not over until we win! I am sending out an S.O.S.—Saving Our Seniors One Smile at a time! I want a legion of Geriatric Toothfairies dedicated to ending dental disparities in nursing homes. We also have a successful mobile dental company where we service nursing homes in Florida and Georgia, and my goal is to equip other hygienists and dentists to start mobile practices in long-term care facilities. I am pursuing my doctoral degree to make a change for our aging adults and to be the voice to those whose voice has become a whisper!

MT: You are a powerhouse! And that’s another area where we see eye to eye—it all comes down to the patients. As @thetoothgirl, the bottom line of everything I do is to make dentistry a better place for not only the patient, but the provider, as well. We’ve got to put our own oxygen masks on first so we can give our patients the best chance at health. I’m also currently obsessed with technology and the potential of where tech innovations can take us in the future. But what I like most about the relationship we have together is that we each have our own things going on, our own autonomy, our own stories. BUT we’ve come together to carve a new path and create a new story. We’ve launched successful businesses in addition to sharing both the stage and podcast mic together. Most of all, we have a blast doing it! My favorite conversations with you usually start with “What if…” or, “Listen to this idea…” If a conversation begins like that, then I know we’re about to dream really big!

SD: Our ask of each member of the DeW community is to embrace the changes that dentistry—and our country—are now facing. Know that it is okay to push yourself, even if it’s uncomfortable, because greatness is often born out of places of discomfort. In chess, the queen is the most powerful piece on the board, as she alone can move in any direction and for longer distances. DeWs are powerful, strong, and determined! On behalf of Melissa and me, as women in dentistry, let’s continue to embrace change and move forward knowing we are shaping the history of the industry! And remember, just like in chess, you can never win if you don’t make a move. What are you waiting for? Go and make your move!



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