Minority Organizations Strive for More Inclusion in Dentistry

Jessica A. Rickert, DDS

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In dentistry as in society as a whole, there is a deep divide across racial lines. It is the end product of centuries of failure to offer equality and justice for all. But is it deepening further?

Minority dentists have felt so unwelcome that they formed organizations like the Society of American Indian Dentists (SAID), the Hispanic Dental Society (HDS), and the National Dental Association (NDA).

Currently, there are 300 American Indian and Alaskan Native (AI/AN) dentists in the United States. But for there to be parity with the general population, there needs to be 3,000 AI/AN dentists.

However, the number of AI/AN students in dental schools has been going down every year. Today, there are 14 AI/AN students in the United States. This is the result of a lack of inclusion and opportunity. SAID provides scholarships, but it is not enough to help all prospective students.

I personally have experienced the extreme cruelty and mean-spiritedness of colleagues, from the 1970s until today. But I also have experienced help and kindness from colleagues of all races and ethnicities over the years, and it is on these experiences I dwell.

Dental science and practice are exceedingly demanding, difficult, and challenging. Should we not be collaborating and helping each other to solve the maladies facing us? We need each other’s brain power and creativity to address these problems, regardless of the color of the skin of the contributor.

Let us achieve unity in dentistry. But how?

We need more representation of all folks in our media. Why are there so few brown and black faces in our journals, our public service announcements, our advertising, and our patient education materials?

Why aren’t SAID, HDS, and NDA given free space at state and national dental meetings?

Why don’t we join each other for lunch during these meetings and at continuing education events? Why can’t we smile at each other, sit next to each other, and strike up a conversation? Go ahead and attend a SAID annual session, or an HDS or NDA conference. All are welcome.

Let’s additionally recognize the leaders of SAID, HDS, and NDA. Let our youth see these leaders and aspire to be like them. It also is important to learn an accurate history of the AI/AN, African-American, and Hispanic experiences in America. This history is not taught in schools.

SAID, HDS, and NDA all had scheduled annual sessions for 2020, but these meetings were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they are planning a joint session in 2021 where all three organizations will meet together. All of those who are associated with the dental profession are invited to attend.

Finally, whatever dental school you attended will have programs that assist students from under-represented minority backgrounds. Volunteer to help them and gently steer these youth into dentistry.

Dr. Rickert became the first female American Indian dentist in the United States when she graduated from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry in 1975. While working in private practice in Southeast Michigan, she developed a prevention program and added orthodontics to the dental clinic at Detroit’s Children’s Aid Society. As a board member of the Michigan Urban Indian Health Council, she established an intertribal dental clinic in Detroit. She also assisted the Grand Traverse Band of Chippewa and Ottawa Indians and the Saginaw Chippewas with dental screenings, preliminary planning for dental clinics, and educational presentations. She has served on the board of the Society of American Indian Dentists as well. And, she was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame for her work relating to American Indian health issues as well. She can be reached at jarickert@charter.net.

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