Breaking Barriers to Build Healthy Smiles

Embracing differing backgrounds and ethnicities in dentistry encourages growth and self-improvement while fostering new ideas in treating diverse patient populations.

By Genni Burkhart, Incisor Editor

According to the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), dental schools in the United States continue to experience difficulty in attracting and enrolling BAA (Black and African American) students, perpetuating oral health disparities in minority communities.

Despite making up 14.2% of the population, only 6.7% of the applicant pool for U.S. dental schools consisted of BAA applicants in 2022. The total 2022 applicant pool for U.S. dental school was 10,585 and contained 719 BAA applicants.

Racial and ethnic diversity in the oral health workforce can help address inequities and improve care access. By having a workforce representative of the population it serves, healthcare providers can better understand and address the specific needs of diverse communities. Furthermore, a diverse workforce fosters a more welcoming patient environment, leading to improved access to care and healthy outcomes.

Dental Profession Statistics

According to a research demographic summary of 30 million profiles in the United States, the data science team at Zippia (1) comprised 2023 statistics in the field of dentistry. Some of their key findings included:

  • 108,843 dentists are employed in the United States.
  • 54.5% of dentists are female, and 45.5% are male.
  • White dentists make up the majority of the dental profession at 62.5%, followed by Asian dentists at 22.0%, Hispanics at 9.0%, and Black dentists at just 3.1%.
  • Female dentists earn 91% of the salary of male dentists.
  • White dentists have the highest average salary ($151,843), while Black dentists have the lowest average salary ($129,125).
  • 11.94% of dentists are part of the LGBT community.

Data from the 2022 CareQuest Institute for Oral Health communication brief (2) shows the scope of racial disparities in oral healthcare are “glaring.” Furthermore, the survey revealed the disproportionate impact on Black and minority communities.

CareQuest also found that 71% of BAA providers reported a “significant reduction” in patient volumes since the onset of the pandemic, compared to 51% of white providers surveyed.

Representation Matters

Dr. Rasheeda Johnson, DDS, MBA

BAA dental providers tend to serve geographic areas with more Black, Hispanic, and Native American residents.

One example is DOCS Education’s 2023 Safe Sedation Dentist of the Year, Dr. Rasheeda Johnson, DDS, MBA.

After completing technical training in a high school program, Dr. Johnson pursued her higher education by majoring in Health Science at Hofstra University. She then continued her studies at the Howard University College of Dentistry, where she received her dental education.

Following her dental training, she completed a one-year General Practice Residency at the Nassau University Medical Center. Furthermore, Dr. Johnson earned an MBA with a Marketing Specialization from Louisiana State University Shreveport.

During her dental school days, Dr. Johnson and two fellow students embarked on several mission trips to various African countries to provide oral healthcare to underserved communities. With the support and inspiration from a member of the embassy in Sudan, She founded Dental Helping Hands in 2016, alongside her classmates, to continue their impactful work.

The non-profit group offers dental care and education to rural villages in several African countries, including Ghana, Jamaica, Tanzania, and Nigeria, as well as in her home state of Virginia. The organization also performs cleft lip and palate surgeries.

By bringing oral healthcare to those most in need, Dr. Johnson and her team at Dental Helping Hands can improve their oral health and provide much-needed access to medical services.

"Even though it's a small thing I'm doing – it might be an extraction or a filling … this person, they really need it." She added, "It's instant gratification because you know the people you're treating don't have access to care in the way you do." - Dr. Rasheeda Johnson

Diverse Backgrounds Advance Care

Diversity in dentistry brings a wide range of perspectives and ideas to the table, which is crucial for innovation and progress. When people from different backgrounds and cultures contribute to the oral health collective, they bring their own experiences, knowledge, and insights, leading to fresh approaches and solutions in dentistry.

This diversity of thought fosters creativity, encourages collaboration, and ultimately enhances the quality of care and services provided to patients with different backgrounds, ethnicities, and cultures.

For example, a dental practice that embraces diversity may have dentists who have grown up in different cultures, bringing unique perspectives on oral health and dental care practices. A diversified approach can improve the patient-dentist relationship, thus enhancing care acceptance and treatment outcomes.

Additionally, a diverse dental practice may have dentists who belong to underrepresented groups, allowing for a broader range of experiences and resulting in a more comprehensive approach to patient care.

In conclusion

Diversity in dentistry is more than an umbrella term; it connotates a wide range of perspectives and ideas, fostering innovation and collaboration that ultimately enhances the quality of care.

Diversified perspectives improve the patient-dentist relationship, enhance care acceptance and treatment outcomes, and provide a more comprehensive approach to patient care – we see that in the breadth and depth of care Dr. Rasheeda Johnson provides to underserved Black communities.

The persistent absence of diversity in dental education and representation in dental practices has revealed a disparity in care for marginalized communities. Perhaps it's time to dismantle the existing norms in dentistry and challenge the barriers that hinder equal access to oral health services, ensuring healthier smiles for everyone.

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Author: With over 14 years as a published journalist, editor, and writer, Genni Burkhart's career has spanned politics, healthcare, law, business finance, technology, and news. She resides in Northern Colorado, where she works as the Editor in Chief of the Incisor at DOCS Education.


1. Dentist Demographics and Statistics in the US (n.d.) Updated July, 21, 2023. Retrieved from

2. CareQuest Institute for Oral Health. The Glaring Scope of Racial Disparities in Oral Health. Boston, MA: June 2022. Copyright ©2022 CareQuest Institute for Oral Health, Inc.

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