By Artemiz Seif Adkins, DDS
The date was 1885 and the pioneer was Dr. C. Edmund Kells of New Orleans. The trailblazer was a teenage girl, Malvina Cueria, hired to assist Dr. Kells in his dental practice. What Malvina didn’t know was that she was to become the first dental assistant in modern history. But her title was not dental assistant; it was lady in attendance. Her presence in the operatory made it possible for female patients to receive care from Dr. Kells without their husband’s presence, which afforded female patients a bit of independence and privacy in a time when women needed permission from their husbands, fathers, and brothers for most things.1
Around the same time, Dr. F.W. Low suggested women could be trained to go from house to house every two weeks with an orangewood stick, pumice, and a flannel rag to polish teeth. Shortly after that, Dr. Myer L. Rhein proposed to the American Medical Association that women be allowed to clean and polish teeth as dental nurses in a practice. He argued that women were paid far less than a dentist, and allowing them to perform hygiene services would free dentists to perform other restorative functions. Yet another pioneer of this concept, Dr. Alfred C. Fones, trained his lady in attendance, Irene Newman, to clean and polish teeth in his practice. But he didn’t like the title dental nurse. Instead he chose dental hygienist, which implied disease prevention instead of disease treatment. Of course, Irene also didn’t recognize the significance of accepting her new position and responsibilities. Much like Malvina, she blazed the trail that hundreds of thousands of others have since traveled.2
Regardless of these humble beginnings, allied dental professionals have spent the past 125 years becoming indispensible. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of dental assistants and dental hygienists will grow nearly 30% in the next decade, placing them among the top 10 fastest growing professions in the nation. One could argue that the golden years for prosperity of dental allied professionals have arrived.
What will be our legacy?
My team is much like yours. We are eclectic, talented, compassionate, highly motivated, and most of all, resilient.
Among us is a mother of two, whose Mexican heritage taught her an unwavering dedication to family. So even after suffering as a victim of domestic abuse, she fought patiently for her family. Realizing her partner’s life values did not match her own, she saved her children and forged into life as a single mom. Fast forward four years, and today she’s a hard-working, ethical, valuable member of our team, and her new relationship is giving her the gift of another baby. Always protective of her family, she says, “My water is going to have to break at work because I’m not leaving you guys until I absolutely have to.”
Another member of our team spent her childhood in concentration camps in Bosnia with a family torn apart by war. Even though she grew up surrounded by the most horrendous atrocities of war, she always knew that life could be safer, better, and happier, and she escaped to the United States to pursue that dream. Today she has created just what she always knew life should be like. A recent college graduate, she has a happy marriage and always welcomes her extended family into her home. She is an inspiration who teaches us never to underestimate the power of human imagination.
The magic of my team continues with another woman who became a victim of marital infidelity after she dedicated 15 years of her life to “us” instead of “me.” Consistent with her amazing qualities she refused to fall apart, and in one of the most incredible displays of professionalism I’ve ever seen, refused to miss even one day of work. This infidelity will not define her. Her strength continues to bewilder me, and her ever-smiling face is a reminder that even amid life’s most challenging moments, resilience shines through.
My team is much like yours. They are my greatest assets. Sometimes I sit and listen to my team interact with our patients and think, “Do they know how good they really are?”
It is an unprecedented time in our professional journey. I hope you take a moment to notice. Just as Malvina and Irene and the hundreds of thousands of others who came before us, we are all blazing a trail for others. Will we choose our journey intentionally? Will we raise the bar of professionalism? Will we help our profession and our teams deliver the best oral health care the world has ever seen? Perhaps most importantly, will we leave a legacy worth following?
Happy Dental Team Week!
With gratitude to my team and to all the allied dental teams across this nation, happy Dental Team Week! You spend your days making your work look easy. With humility, I am acutely aware that my team makes my life easier and my business more successful. I hope you know how good you really are and what incredible potential lies ahead. And I hope you wear your professional heritage with pride. You deserve to.
Dr. Artemiz Seif Adkins is a 2004 graduate of the University of the Pacific. She is a full-time general dentist in Scottsdale, Ariz., where she founded the Dentist-Patient Alliance program. She also serves as CEO of Royal Penguin (www.royalpenguin.com), a startup dental supply company. Dr. Adkins is a member of the Board of Directors of UOP’s Alumni Association, as well as spokesperson for Moms Against Poverty, a California-based nonprofit organization. Visit her practice Web site at www.adkinsdentistry.com.
By Artemiz Seif Adkins, DDS