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Picture of Jeanne C. Sinkford, D.D.S., Ph.D.
Jeanne C. Sinkford, D.D.S., Ph.D.: Profile

When Dr. Jeanne Sinkford decided she wanted to be a dentist in the late 1960s, there were no female role models for her to emulate. Her father, she said, thought she was crazy. But with hard work and determination, she became her own role model, entering a field dominated by men, breaking through the glass ceiling and in 1975, becoming the first woman dean of an American dental school.

"It was very challenging. My race wasn't the barrier. It was more of the mental barrier with the men in the field," she said. "I was not their colleague, which made it difficult. They had to deal with this odd woman. Fortunately, now there are nine women deans at 56 dental schools across the country."

Much like medicine, the number of women entering the field of dentistry is on the rise, said Dr. Sinkford, who now works on women and minority recruitment and retention with the American Dental Education Association. "Women bring intelligence and energy to the profession. They are goal oriented, compassionate and have an eye for beauty. From an aesthetic point of view (we spend billions on beauty care a year), it's easy for women to understand the needs of others and see what has to be done."

Dentistry has changed significantly over the decades, she said. "I remember when I was first in dental school; people would ask to have their teeth pulled. Today people want to retain their teeth; they want to keep their beautiful smiles." Changes within the oral health care delivery system, she said, must be addressed, particularly as they relate to those who lack access to care and can't afford proper care.

"Oral health is directly related to systemic health. The mouth is an organ that is responsible for speech, taste, swallowing and the first stages of digestion," she added. Through her work with the association, Dr. Sinkford has had the opportunity to travel internationally to share the concept of pooling resources, sharing faculty and addressing community needs.

As for the future, the mother of three with husband Dr. Stanley Sinkford and first-time grandmother, sees herself relaxing on the beach with her husband and doing nothing. Then she quickly adds, "I hope to be useful as long as there is a need for expertise and advice on the transitioning and changing needs of the profession. I'd also like to place more focus on bioethics, cultural competency and teach graduates the importance of treating those who are medically compromised and who lack access to care."

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