Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dental Patience

What's it like to be a woman in dentistry?

I got a glimpse while talking with my friend Mary Jo after the concert.

** When she entered dental school at the University of Missouri in Kansas City in 1975, there were 15 women students and 160 men. In the class above her, there were 7 women and 160 men; in the next class, 5 women and in the senior class, 1 woman and 160 men.

** In the large lecture class on Dental Biochemistry, the professor used slides of pin-up girls to enliven the illustrations accompanying his lectures. Mary Jo didn't complain, but a new department chair put a stop to the practice a year later.

** Five years ago at the Dental Study Club, a monthly meeting of 30-some professional dentists in West Los Angeles for support and continuing education, Mary Jo walked in a few minutes late to one monthly luncheon where a Beverly Hills orthodontist was giving a PowerPoint presentation. She's the only woman member of this study group.

"He stopped and looked like a deer in headlights when I entered the room," she said.

"I didn't know you were going to be here," he said.

It turned out he had laced his presentation with slides of naked fat women.

Mary Jo kept her cool as he tried to make his embarrassment all about her--not about his own poor taste.

**Last week at another meeting of the Dental Study Club, an old codger who had ignored her for many years, not appreciating a woman in the otherwise all-male club, happened to be seated next to her.

Mary Jo mentioned that her father is a dentist still practicing in his 70s and her great-uncle was W. H. Eames, an organizer of the Missouri State Dental Association in the 19th C. and a professor of dentistry in Missouri.

The previously distant gentleman got up from his chair and made obeisance to her in honor of her great-uncle.

** Mary Jo also described taking out a loan for $100,000 in 1982 to buy a practice in West Los Angeles--a courageous move for a woman at that time. She proved successful and paid back her loan, billing patients at the same rate male dentists charge. (Statistics show that for the same service, women dentists tend to charge about 75 cents for every dollar men charge.)

Another frontier now more open to women, thanks to the work of pioneers like Mary Jo.

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