How male dental hygienists are breaking down gender roles

By Irene Esteves, RDH
December 18, 2013

While it is no secret that the majority of dental hygienists are women, the growth of the number of male hygienists seems to slowly be rising. However, while the gender role within the profession continues to break down, the outside world where one must look for a job continues to be a challenge to many.

Survey: Dental hygiene work differs for men and women

Of course the best way to investigate the experiences of male hygienists is simply to ask. After interviewing a 2010 male graduate, whose class only had himself and one other male, I was able to gain a little insight as to understanding his perspectives and experiences in the field. I found that his experiences very much showed the continued necessity of breaking down gender roles both within the professional community and general population.

One of the most interesting stories was a memory from one of the interviewee’s days in school. When completing a rotation at a transitional facility, a patient that he was to treat adamantly refused service simply because he was a male. This was his first experience with this type of feedback, but luckily a professor stepped in and spoke with the patient about the fact that his ability and training was equal to any female present, which resulted in the patient finally accepting treatment for that day. The interviewee mentions that this particular experience was a shocking introduction of what was a natural occurrence in the dental field. However, one highlight is the fact that after explanation by a professor, the patient changed their mind. Perhaps then, one of the keys to breaking down the mindsets of many about gender roles for dental hygienists may need to come with help from those in authority who can explain and gain acceptance of something that is not considered the norm. This, in the smallest of levels, is progress.

The 12 best states for young dental hygienists

Progress is indeed much needed after continuing to hear about the challenges in the work force and the reason for it. Some of the commentary of my interviewee discussed his thoughts as to the fact that after searching and going through a number of job interviews, he found that it was easier to be hired by female dentists and that the most viable jobs for himself would be entering public health or prison dentistry. These while both great potential sectors to work in, is still quite limiting. The interviewee even mentions parents’ preference to have females work on their children with their particular excuse being that he had to have much larger hands because he was male.

Yet while this particular interviewee did undergo many challenges because of his gender, it is of course not always the case. My particular private practice with a male dentist has a male hygienist in payroll and another male RDH in my graduating class is working in pediatric dentistry. However, generally male hygienists commonly do encounter more challenges. It is great that many schools have classes with more and more males present, which was noticeable to me as when I completed presentations for various dental hygiene classes within California. My interviewee for this article also has a positive spirit in that he believes that while it may take time to break down some stigmas, that over time, males too will be accepted easily in to the dental hygiene role as everyone has potential to be great hygienists.



Born and raised in California, Irene Esteves graduated from the University of the Pacific with a B.S. in Biological Sciences and from the University of Southern California with a B.S. in Dental Hygiene and Masters in Public Health. Currently, she works in private practice, teaches as a clinical instructor at USC School of Dentistry's Periodontology Department, and as an educational consultant of TePe USA. Irene stays active within the community by volunteering at local events and through her involvement with the Los Angeles Dental Hygiene Society as VP of Continuing Education.

Related Articles

DentalPost launches Candidate Matching feature

DentistryIQ Editors 01/27/2015

DentalPost, an online and mobile job board, launched its Candidate Matching feature for its members. The Candidate Matching system uses sophisticated algorithms to match job seekers' skills and culture preferences with relevant job openings.

The year is starting off with lots of breaking news!

Maria Perno Goldie, RDH, MS 01/14/2015

There are lots of new developments and breaking news to start off the new year, and in this week's introduction, Maria Perno Goldie, RDH, MS, gives an overview of some of the more recent and important occurrences and findings.

How to evaluate a clinical study and research resources

Maria Perno Goldie, RDH, MS 01/14/2015

There's a method to evaluating research and clinical studies, which are designed to help practitioners during their practice of oral care. Maria Perno Goldie, RDH, MS, offers some tips for making the most of the current research.

The latest updates in perio from the experts

Maria Perno Goldie, RDH, MS 12/29/2014

Only 20% of physicians reported that their professional education included oral health content, while 80% reported not receiving any education on oral health care.

Stay Connected

Subscribe to Dentistty IQ's Newsletters

Dental Photo of the Day

There is no current content available.
1421 S. Sheridan Road
Tulsa, Oklahoma 74112
PH: 800.331.4633