I have had some ongoing dental issues for the last 12 years! Thus, I have had the opportunity (I won’t say pleasure) of visiting many dental offices. One of the major themes, other than pain and large bills, in dentistry seems to be the employment of only female dental hygienists. In fact, as I reminisce back over my long lifetime of dental experiences, I can honestly say I have never seen a single male hygienist or for that matter a black hygienist of either sex. I started to wonder why that might be. I do not live in an extremely segregated community. I know of at least two black dentists, although I have never been a patient of theirs. I do not live in a small town, although I have in the past. I have seen dentists in other states as well as numerous cities and towns throughout New York State.
Our local community college offers a degree program in Dental Hygiene. I called there to see if they could shed some light on the phenomenon. I was told that it is a very selective and competitive program, accepting only 42 students a year. It is also a program that requires a strong foundation in high school science. I really never knew that dental hygiene was such a demanding field. I asked if minorities and men were encouraged to apply to the program. I was told that the college does not have a minority recruitment program. As far as men entering the field, I was informed that men who are interested in dentistry as a profession become dentists, not hygienists. This, as I mentioned to the college representative is the same sexist excuse given for years to explain the low numbers of men entering the Nursing profession, another white, female dominated profession.
The community college representative informed me that there is one male dental hygienist she knows of who is currently practicing in the local community! The tide is turning evidently, although quite slowly in regards to male Dental Hygienists. She encouraged me to contact the American Dental Hygiene Association about my concerns as they might be more aware of overall statistics regarding minority enrollment in Dental Hygiene programs throughout the country.
The ADHA responded quickly to my emailed query, agreeing with the validity of my perception of low male and minority representation within the field of Dental Hygiene. The ADHA does offer are a number of scholarships for Dental Hygiene students, including one that is earmarked specifically for male and other underrepresented groups (minority) Dental Hygiene Students. I was happy to know that they recognize the problem, and that they are working on it. So now all I have to worry about is my next trip to the dentist and paying the bill!