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Home | Women in dentistry | The Gender Shift, the demographics of women i . . .

The Gender Shift, the demographics of women in dentistry. What impact will it have?
ADA, Survey Center, Lynn D Carlisle DDS
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This is the first of a three part series that looks at the question "Is there a difference in the way men and women practice dentistry?"

There is a wave of women dentists surging through dentistry. ISOC is attempting to discover the impacts this gender shift will have on dentistry. A logical starting place is to look at the demographics of women in dentistry.

What precipitated this gender shift? In the U.S., prior to the early 1970's, dentists were almost exclusively male. The U.S. had the lowest percentage of women dentists in the Western World: roughly half of the dentists in Greece were women, about one-third in France, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, and almost four-fifths in Russia, Finland, Latvia, and Lithuania.1

Two reasons led to this gender shift:

  • One was the women's liberation and civil rights movements of the 1960's and early 1970's with the attendant federal legislation to fund grants and encourage increasing enrollments of women in professional health schools.

  • The second was the impact birth control had on opening the doors for a women to a professional career because most women could choose when to have children.
  • start quoteBoth of these developments were radical and changed centuries of prejudice against women as doctors. Birth control stands as one of the greatest biological and cultural changes in history.end quote

    Both of these developments were radical and changed centuries of prejudice against women as doctors. Birth control stands as one of the greatest biological and cultural changes in history. Without birth control, even with encouraging federal legislation, women would have had a much more difficult time graduating from dental school if they had children.

    The following figures are from the ADA, Survey Center, 2003 Distribution of Dentists in the United States by region and State and the 2005 Survey of Dental Education. I was unable to find comparable statistics in a Google search of the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. (Thanks to Jeff Gartman Reference and OnLine resources librarian of the ADA Library for help in researching these statistics)

    The percentage distribution of all active private practitioners and new active private practitioners in the United States by gender, 2003

    All active private practitioners:

  • Male 82.8%, Female 17.2%
  • New active private practitioners:

    (means a recently graduated Dentist who now works 35+ hours per week either in an associateship or as an owner. Also, the Committee on the New Dentist states that one is considered "new" at 10 years or less out of Dental School.)

  • Male 65.4%, Female 34.6%
  • Percentage distribution of all professionally active dentists in the United States, Age by gender

    Among male professionally active dentists, more than two-thirds(68.2%) were 45 or older. Among female professionally active dentists, almost exactly two-thirds (66.6%) were under the age of 45.


  • 65 and older, Male 11.9%, and Female 1.1%
  • 55-64, Male 23.7%, Female 4.9%
  • 45-54, Male 32.6%, Female 27.3%
  • 35-44, Male 20.8%, Female 39%
  • Under 35, Male 11%, Female 27.6%
  • Full and part-time status of all active private practitioners, gender by region and state:

  • U.S. Full time Male, 87.1%, Part-time 12.9%
  • U.S. Full time Female 76.5%, Part-time 23.5%
  • In 2003, the largest percentage of male active participants was found in the Mountain region where 89.5% of all active private practitioners were male. Utah had the largest percentage of male active private practitioners in any state 97.7%. The largest percentage of female active private practitioners was found in the Pacific region, where 20.3% of all active private practitioners were female.

    The District of Columbia and Maryland had the highest percentage of female active private practitioners in any state, 24.2% and 22.8% respectively. The other regions ranged from 86.0% male, 14% female in the West North Central to 82% male to 18.% female in the Middle Atlantic. the other regions fell within these ranges.

    Percentage distribution of practice, research, or administration area for professionally active dentists in the U.S. by gender, 2003.

    All professionally active dentists:

    General practitioner,

  • Male, 78.6%, Female, 81.4%
  • Specialist,

  • Male, 21.4%, Female, 18.6%
  • New professionally active dentists

    General practitioners,

  • Male 80.5%, Female, 83.0%
  • Specialist, Male, 19.5%, female, 17.0%
  • Among all professionally active specialists listed above, the male/female ratios were:

  • Orthodontics, Male 5.9%, Female, 4.6%
  • Oral Surgery, Male 4.5%, Female 1.0%
  • Periodontics, Male 3.0%, Female 2.6%
  • Pediatric Dentistry, Male, 2.3%, Female 5.2%
  • Endodontics, Male 2.6%, Female 1.9%
  • Prosthodontics, Male, 2.1%, 1.3%
  • Public Health, Male, 0.6%, Female, 1.2%
  • Oral Pathology, Male 0.2%, Female, 0.2%
  • Oral Radiology, Male, 0.1%, Female 0.0%
  • The male/female ratios for new professionally active specialists closely paralleled the percentages listed for all professionally active specialists.

    The following statistics are from the ADA survey center, Survey of Dental Education.

    Total Dental school Enrollment by gender, 1995-96 to 2004-05. Total enrollment increased during this time from 16,552 to 18,315. An increase of 10.7%. During the same period, the number of female students increased by 32.0%. The male enrollment decreased by 1.7% during this time.

    Enrollment by gender:

  • 1995-96, Male 63.3%, Female 36.7%
  • 1996-97, Male 63.0%, Female 37.0%
  • 1997-98, Male 62.6%, Female 37.4%
  • 1998-99, Male 63.2%, Female 36.8%
  • 1999-2000, Male 62.2%, Female 37.8%
  • 2000-01, Male 61.7%, Female 38.3%
  • 2001-02, Male 59.8%, Female 40.2%
  • 2002-03, Male 58.0%, Female 42.0%
  • 2003-04, Male 56.7%, Female 43.3%
  • 2004-05, Male 56.2%, Female 43.8%
  • Applications received by dental schools by gender for 2004-05: United States - Male 57.7%, Female 42.3%. Canada - Male 46.3%, Female 53.7%.

    The number of women elected as presidents of state dental societies:

  • 1998 2 out of 50
  • 1999 4 out of 50
  • 2000 3 out of 50
  • 2001 3 out of 50
  • 2002 6 out of 50
  • 2003 7 out of 50
  • 2004 3 out of 50
  • 2005 4 out of 50
  • 2006 8 out of 50
  • Total for this period 40 out of 450 or 8% of total presidencies available were women. The incoming President of the ADA for 2007 is a woman - Kathleen Roth, DDS.

    The male/female ratio of women and men faculty members and the number of female deans.

    From 2003/04 Survey of Dental Education Vol. 3 Faculty & Support: 7,304 Male Faculty Members...2041 Female. Male faculty members 78%, Female faculty members 12%. There are 11 female Deans out of 56 dental schools = 19.6%. The number of dental schools is currently 56.

    Some statistics from the University of Missouri at Kansas City School of Dentistry published in "Perspectives, the news magazine of UMKC", Fall edition, 2006, "The Gender Shift":

    School of Dentistry:

  • 1946, Male 299 (99.9%, Female 3 (0.0099%)
  • 1975, Male 675 (84.5%), Female 124 (15.5%)*
  • 2005, Male 242 (62.4%), Female 146 (37.6%)
  • Some statistics from the University of Missouri at Kansas City for 2005.


  • Male 42%, Female 58%
  • Graduate:

  • Male 40%, Female 60%
  • Professional schools:

  • Male, 51%, Female 49%
  • Faculty:

  • Male, 64%, Female 36%
  • *UMKC is an urban university and the higher number of women in the various schools may be a reflection of the urban environment versus a traditional university in a typical college town.


    Demographics can be dry and boring and often are self explanatory and obvious. However, some of the demographic information stands out.

    It is obvious that by approximately the year 2015 the ratio of male/female dentists will approach 60.0% male and 40% female dentists. The percentage of women in dentistry will rise significantly from less than 20% now to around 40% (or more) in 2015 as the male dominant "Silent Generation" and older cohort of the "Baby Boom" generations of dentists retire.

    There will be a shortage of dentists occurring as the high numbers of "Silent Generation" and older Cohort of the "Baby Boom" generation retire. This shortage is a result of the reduction of dental school enrollment in the 1980's because of the "busyness problem" (UMKC figures reported a decrease in enrollment from 799 in 1975 to 388 in 2005). It also reflects the number of women who are choosing to practice part time. Anecdotal evidence shows that an increasing number of male and female dentists will leave dentistry because of dissatisfaction and discouragement with the practice of dentistry.

    The University of Missouri at Kansas City statistics show that the number of women in undergraduate programs is increasing and women are in the majority in many undergraduate programs. And, the UMKC statistics show that the number of women in other professional programs is currently 50/50 or more. It is logical to assume that the male/female ratio in dental schools will eventually approach 50/50.

    The decision makers in dentistry are still overwhelmingly male; this reflects the high percentage of male dentists in the "Silent Generation and older cohort of the "Baby Boom Generation". The percentages of women faculty members, women who are deans and women state dental society presidents point this out. As the women in dentistry wave ages and surges through dentistry, these small numbers should increase dramatically.

    These are the statistics. They show that the number of women in dentistry is increasing significantly. This gender shift will have a dramatic impact on the practice of dentistry. But what will that impact be?

    What are the psycho-graphic, social, cultural, developmental, psychological, and attitudinal impacts that women will have in dentistry?

  • The vast majority of research, opinions, and surveys on what makes an outstanding dentist was done by white males on white males. Does this research apply to women? What applies and what does not? Will the feminine replace the masculine?
  • Is the folk wisdom true or false? Are women naturally better at creating relationships, especially dr/patient relationships, or do they have the same challenges as men do in creating these relationships?
  • Does dental school education stifle the spirit of caring in women as it has in men?
  • What are the unique challenges that women dentists face?
  • Are women naturally better at relationship-based dentistry than men?
  • Is the personality profile of women dentists the same as men?
  • Will the demands of motherhood derail or change the woman dentist's dental career plans?
  • What impact will women have when they are the majority or near majority of dentists? It's coming fast!
  • Will fewer women dentists elect to have their own practice and choose to work for someone else?
  • Will different practice models be created to accomodate the different needs of women who are dentists? What will they look like?
  • Will many women dentists refuse to seek higher levels of training in restorative and relationship-based dentistry because this type of commitment unbalances their life too much?
  • Will creative solutions be developed to address the unique demands of being a woman dentist?
  • There are unlimited questions that can be asked.

    These are the questions ISOC will explore.

    In a Spirit of Caring will encourage discussion, dialog, questions, research and opinions around the aspects and issues of women in dentistry.

    Not a ISOC member? Limited time -Free 21 day free trial offer. Click here to join our community of dentists, dental team members and consultants.

    1. Health Professions - Dentistry. Washington University School of Medicine. 2004;1.

    Historical Facts on women in dentistry from aawd
    Thoughts or comments? Please post them on the discussion forum: Discussion Forum

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    ·  The Ally Process and Serving with Soul: How to re-energize your dental career
    ·  A vital revision to the "Women in dentistry" series.
    ·  Is there a difference in the way men and women practice dentistry? Part II
    ·  Is there a difference in the way men and women practice dentistry? Part I
    ·  Using personality profile instruments in dental team building and hiring a new person.
    ·  The Helping Relationship between dentist and patient - a review of the ideas and career of Bob Barkley, DDS.