There’s an interesting statistic that shows there are more female than male students at all levels of education. In certain parts of the third world, girls are still pulled out of school to help with chores or become wives, but overall, women are getting higher levels of education and have now outnumbered their brothers in school buildings.
It makes sense then, that we now how have more women in the field of dentistry. It’s not just the nurses, receptionists, and dental assistants. There’s now a larger number of female dentists that male ones. It’s not clear how much of this shift is driven by patient needs.
After all, most people are terrified of dentists, and the average person finds a woman more comforting than a man, so it follows that they’d prefer a female dentist to a male one. Unfortunately, while women are assumed to be more nurturing and gentle, they’re also wrongly assumed to be less competent.
Many patients – including female ones – have an unconscious bias against female medics. They’re less likely to trust their judgement, accept their prognosis, or accept their treatment. So why are there more women in dentistry if all this works against them?
Well, over the past few decades, a lot has been done to empower women. They have been consciously taught that they can do as well in the sciences as men can. In medical school, dentistry and general medicine students pursue the same studies for the first year before they branch of into specialisation.
They study anatomy and basic chemistry together. For some dentists, this has a certain appeal, because they still get prestige. As one practising dentist put it, “I don’t have to do the crazy shifts and the long hours, but people still call me ‘doctor’.” This could be part of the appeal for female dentists. Unlike regular doctors, dentists keep a regular schedule except for dental emergencies, and those are less frequent than other areas of the medical sector.
This means a woman dentist can achieve a good work-life balance, fitting her schedule around her family time, even when her kids are young or her parents need attention. She can actively pursue her hobbies and relationships in a way that is elusive for doctors in other specialties. She can have a vibrant life outside her work, which is rare for doctors.
In 1901, there were only 20 women practising dentistry. When the first dental school opened at the University of Sydney later that year, there were 17 students, and only two were women. As of June 2017, 50.2% of the dentists and dental therapists in Australia are women. Many based their choice on flexible work hours in comparison with standard medical practice.
Dr. Sabrina Manickam is the daughter or an engineer and the current president of NSW for the Australian Dental Association. As a young girl, she liked to help her dad in his workshop, and she knew she wanted to work with her hands when she grew up. When she was picking a course, her father told her medicine would require long hours and arduous internship.
Dr. Manickam has been practising for 25 years and is based in Orange. She loves that her job gives her an 8.30 to 5 existence, and she never has to do a night shift. She also likes its immediacy. Her patients walk in, she treats them, and they walkout. There are no long waits, days of admission, or endless exploratory tests. Most of the time, she can diagnose and fix a problem instantly. It’s very fulfilling.
She explains that in private dental practice, it’s possible to work part time and still get a good pay cheque. The extra time can be used to run your own business, which is creatively satisfying. She enjoys the blend of using her hands, practicing science, and helping people.
Dr. Susan Wise, the daughter of a medic, decided to be a dentist when her Year 7 maths teacher admitted to having two daughters who were both dentists. Before then, Susan hadn’t realised a girl could be a dentist, and now it seemed like an awesome idea. Her uncle was a practising dentist overseas, and she loved to watch him work.
As she contemplated dentistry, physiotherapy, or medicine, her late dad swung her vote. He told her dentistry would let her “work with her hands, talk to people, have great hours, and avoid a year or gruelling internship.”
Dr. Wise is currently the president of the Victoria chapter of the Australia Dental Association. When she graduated from the University of Melbourne in 1994, her class had 17 women and 34 for men. Her branch of the Australian Dental Association now has 410 women and 322 men who are all dental students. Similarly, the student council members of the Australian Dental Council comprises 90 women and 37 men.
Mothers who are dentists say they love that it gives them time for the kids. Dr. Juliette Scott is a paediatric dentist practising in Crow’s Nest. Her husband is a dentist too, as was her mother. Her dad was a lawyer. Dr. Scott says dentistry has a lot of technological advances now, which means there’s more creativity and art involved, and that’s attractive to women
“When my mum was in dental school, there were 100 students and only six were women. My dad worked a lot, so when my mum started having kids, she had to take time out of her practice. There are five of us kids. I’m glad I don’t have to do that, since I have better hours.”
Similarly, Dr. Melanie Patney of West Pymble can comfortably balance her career and her 18-month-old child. Her favourite thing about her work is that she gets to use her manual dexterity and emotional sensitivity to help people improve their health while still having time for her family and loved ones.