Shyn ⏐ Women’s History Month: Dental Care Pioneers

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Women’s History Month: Dental Care Pioneers

Dental HERstory

March is Women’s History Month, so we want to honor female trailblazers in dentistry by telling you a little bit more about them. These women broke barriers in the world of dental care to ensure that dentists today would be able to excel at their profession — making our smiles bright.


Women in History

Who was the first female dentist? That’s a little tricky to say. Although we know of women physicians going back to the Old Kingdom of Egypt (such as Merit-Ptah, chief physician to the pharaoh), historically, dental work was considered part of a doctor’s normal duties. Dentistry did not become its own profession until the eighteenth century.

Once Western medicine began requiring specific medical education to be a licensed practitioner, women found it much more difficult to enter the medical profession as anything other than midwives. It would remain that way for a few hundred years, until the 1800s, when the first documented women dentists began practicing.


The First Women Dentists

In 1814, Josephine Serre became the first woman in history to receive a dentistry degree from the University of Tartu in Estonia. Her daughter, Marie-Louise Serre would also later graduate from the same university with a dentistry degree in 1829.

In the United States, women wouldn’t begin to enter the profession for another 40 years. The first was Emeline Roberts Jones, who began practicing in 1855. Jones didn’t have a degree in dentistry though — she got her start working as her husband’s dental assistant and opened her dental care practice after his death.

She was soon joined by Lucy Hobbs Taylor, who became the first American woman to earn a degree in dentistry when she graduated from the Ohio Dental College.

A few years later, in 1890, Ida Gray Nelson Rollins became the first African-American woman to earn a dental degree in the United States when she graduated from the University of Michigan.


Female Dentists Around the Globe

Soon, women around the world began to create their own paths in dentistry. Here are a few pioneers from the 19th and 20th centuries:

  • Margarita Chorné y Salazar - became the first female dentist in Mexico in 1886
  • Fatima Jinnah - is recognized as the first female dentist in Pakistan in 1923
  • Vimal Sood - became the first female dentist in India in 1944
  • Badri Teymourtash - was the first female dentist in Iran and became dean of a dental school 1967


Other Firsts for Women in Dentistry

You might be surprised to learn that women were holding leadership positions in dentistry as early as 1916, when Gillette Hayden became the first female president of the American Academy of Periodontology.

Another inspiring woman in the dental field was Jeanne Sinkford. She overcame both gender and racial barriers to be elected dean of the dental school at Howard University in 1975. This made Sinkford the first woman and first African American woman to hold this position at any U.S. dental school.  

Women are still making dental history in the current decade. For example, in 2013, when Gayle Glenn was elected as the first female president of the American Association of Orthodontists.

Keep the Inspiration Going

There are many more milestones to achieve, but this Women’s History Month, we hope you’ll take a second to think about the pioneering women working to make sure your smile shines just a little brighter.

Know of anyone inspiring making a difference in the dental field? We might be interested in profiling them! Share their story by commenting below.