Women in Dentistry: Humble Beginnings to Thought Leaders

by Victoria Harris Victoria Harris | Dec 5, 2023 12:00:00 AM

Dentistry as a profession has existed in some shape or form dating back to the Middle Ages. However, women in the dental field have not always had such clear-cut beginnings, as we dive into the history of women in dentistry.

Historical Context  

Did you know the first “saint” of dentistry was a woman? All the way back in the 2nd century,  Saint Apollonia, a female martyr, was punished by having all her teeth ripped out.1 Unintentionally , she became a symbol of dentistry, representing toothaches and other dental problems. Although this seems like an unfortunate beginning for women in dentistry, this began to set the tone for prejudices women would face when advocating for the right to be educated and practice dentistry. 

Dentistry has been around for a long time. The profession didn’t start to become formalized and regulated until the 19th century, so people of any demographic were permitted to practice dentistry. During this time prior to regulations, many women acted as dental assistants to traveling dentists or assisting their dentist husbands. Madeleine-Françoise Calais is regarded as one of the first female dentists. In 1740, she obtained a master dentist license (despite extreme hesitation and disapproval due to her gender) and opened her first practice in Paris.2

Unfortunately, in 1755, a law was then made in France banning women from dental studies, but this didn’t stop women from practicing dentistry all over the world. The first woman to practice dentistry in the United States was Emeline Roberts Jones, practicing for 60 years from 1855-1915! This inspired many more female dentists in the future, especially Dr. Jennie Kollock Hilton, the first woman to graduate from University of Michigan’s dental program and a fierce advocate for women in dentistry. One of her most famous quotes is in response to a male dentist’s thoughts on women in the field, stating “our earnest prayer shall be that when he is 'filling his last cavity,' it may be written on his tombstone, Here lies the last obstructionist to woman dentists.3 Of course, these activists and female figures in dentistry paved the way for many successful women in dentistry today in 2023.

Dentisting Women Today 

In present-day, women make up almost 40% of all dentists, with dental school enrollment now being a 50-50 male-to-female ratio. Amongst these female dentists are quite a few superstars, such as Dr. Maggie Augustyn, Dr. Laura Brenner, and Dr. Darcy Neveu!

These women, all speakers of Dental Nachos' Super Dentist BOOST 2023, have individual inspiring stories and advice – let’s take a look. 

Dr. Maggie Augustyn’s discusses in her presentation, “I’ve Arrived - From $100 in the Bank to Generational Wealth in Three years,” how she transformed her life and practice mentally, physically, AND financially. 



Dr. Laura Brenner, in her presentation "Diagnose your Burnout to Choose the Right Treatment," explains how burnout led her to quit clinical dentistry, and what she did to diagnose and treat it.

Dr. Darcy Neveu and her lecture, "New Practice Owners Leadership," gets raw about her struggles as a practice owner and how she dealt with expectations versus reality of the dental profession. 


With all these amazing women shaping the future of dentistry, it's no wonder that more and more women are becoming dentists! 

Want to see the full lectures of these female-thought leaders in dentistry? Get a membership to our Nacho On-Demand CE platform! This membership not only offers an extensive library of high-quality dental continuing education courses, but it also provides a supportive community, 1:1 personalized support, plus discounts to our in-person events & swag! Get access to the courses above & more by clicking the button below: 




1: Who Is Saint Apollonia, www.houstonheightsdentistry.com/blogs/who-is-saint-apollonia. Accessed 30 Nov. 2023.  

2: “Madeleine-Françoise Calais.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Mar. 2023, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madeleine-Fran%C3%A7oise_Calais.

3: “Jennie Kollock Hilton.” Sindecuse Museum, www.sindecusemuseum.org/jennie-kollock-hilton. Accessed 30 Nov. 2023.



Additional Reading