Top 25 Women in Dentistry: Top Women Dentists

March 21, 2012

Dr. Tamara Bailey After rising above a difficult divorce and moving to a new city, Dr. Tamara Bailey settled in to life as a single mom in a male-dominated profession, building a successful dental practice from scratch. These days, she is serving as the Director of Doctor Relations for the Atlanta Center for Dental Excellence, busy overseeing the building of a new office, and somehow still finding time to take her three kids to hockey practice.

Dr. Tamara Bailey

After rising above a difficult divorce and moving to a new city, Dr. Tamara Bailey settled in to life as a single mom in a male-dominated profession, building a successful dental practice from scratch.

These days, she is serving as the Director of Doctor Relations for the Atlanta Center for Dental Excellence, busy overseeing the building of a new office, and somehow still finding time to take her three kids to hockey practice.

In 1998, Tammy was working in a pathology lab-miserable. “I actually never thought about dentistry as a profession,” she explains. “But while I was working in the lab I went to the dentist for a cleaning, and we were talking about work. I told him what I wanted my job to be like, and he suggested I become a dentist.” Her dentist even allowed Tammy to shadow him for an afternoon at his office. Afterwards, she was sold.

“It was completely out of the blue,” Tammy remembers, “but it was the right decision.”

Doing the right thing, of course, is not always the easy thing, and after her decision to pursue dentistry, Tammy faced several major hurdles. As she was preparing for dental school, Tammy’s mother developed breast cancer. A short time later, she was faced with divorce and the reality of raising her three children on her own. All of the complications that stood in her way could have led her to hesitate, but instead, she chose to persevere and focus on what matters most in life.

“My family was upper middle class growing up, so it shocked me when I was out in the real world,” Tammy says. “You realize you don’t need ‘stuff’ anymore, it’s the little things that matter, like spending time with family.”

Whether in her professional or personal life, Tammy believes in living life to the fullest. “Five years ago, I would not have said that,” she admits, “but now, touching people and helping when help is needed is important to me. Once in awhile I like to buy the guy behind me in the drive thru for Starbucks his coffee. There was a time where I was really struggling financially. I’ve been there.”

Dr. Frank Clayton, Tammy’s friend and colleague, knows of Tammy’s kindness and success firsthand. “She is not only a truly down-to-earth person, but an outstanding dentist as well. Unlike many prima donnas (both male and female) I have met in dentistry, she is solid,” he says. “She practices every day, yet still finds balance with her life. She’s confident in her words and actions, and I think a huge asset not only to female dentists, but males as well.”

Dr. Helaine Smith

Dr. Helaine Smith was committed to becoming a dentist. So committed that in the late 1980s, as many dental schools were forced to close because of financial limitations, she followed her dream to three schools: Accepted at Georgetown University, but told soon after that the incoming class would not start. From there, she matriculated to Washington University, which then closed as well. Finally, she returned to the east cost to receive her degree from Boston University.

The education wasn’t complete. Helaine went on to get further cosmetic training at the Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies, which she describes as “the highlight of my education. This training enabled me to find my passion and practice the type of dentistry I wanted.”

Today, Helaine is able to provide patient-focused care, specializing in cosmetic work, in two of her own Boston-area practices, recognized as some of the most successful in the city-one was honored with a Readers Choice Award in the Best Dentist category in June 2006.

“It gives me a great feeling to know that I matter to my patients and that I can help them reach their full potential by providing the smile they’ve always wanted,” she explains. “I have created the practice of my dreams, and I want all dentists to know that they can too.”

Now she is starting to be recognized on a national level as a speaker sharing her insights on dental accounting methods and social media for dentistry.

“I hope to mentor dentists and help them reach their full potential,” she says. “Dentistry is such a wonderful career with endless opportunities. Exploring and creating a practice that suits our needs is the most important aspect in order to having a full, balanced life.”

Dr. Hazel Harper

Hazel Harper, a dentist from Washington D.C., has been making her mark on the world of dentistry since 1975. Two years ago she co-founded the Deamonte Driver Dental Project (DDDP); a community based oral health initiative for children in Prince Georges County, Md.

Hazel put her master’s degree in public health to good use after a 12-year-old Deamonte Driver died from severe tooth decay that spread to his brain. After two surgeries and 6 months in the hospital Deamonte was dead. “My life changed. Deamonte went to school 5 minutes from my home, and I didn’t know there was a problem,” Hazel says. “After years of not fully utilizing my public health degree, it just came to me.” The DDDP allows neighborhood dentists to travel to elementary schools in their community and provide them with the care they need.

Hazel believes her determination helps her juggle “two full-time jobs” as a general dentist and project director of the DDDP. “When I focus my energies on a goal, especially for children, I’m like a locomotive. If there is something that needs to be done; it’s getting done,” she explains.

While she once thought she would follow her physician father’s career path, Hazel was recruited into dentistry by Dr. Jeanne Sinkford, a young assistant dean at Howard University. “She told me I could combine the profession with a family, and that’s kind of what made me decide to switch from medicine to dentistry,” she says. “I just knew I wanted to help people and be involved in science. I saw my dad work, and the medical field was what I knew.”

Making that transition wasn’t the only thing Hazel needed to overcome. “As a woman that came through in the ’70s-into a profession that was male dominated-my sense of self worth was called into question,” she recalls. “I was told by men that women in the industry couldn’t be as productive as men, which is not the case. I’m starting to find now in fact, that it may be just the opposite.”

Hazel has achieved much success in practice and feels rewarded by serving as a mentor to her students, yet she remains most proud of her work in her community. “I guess I’m proud that I can live with a sense of purpose; and I have the ability to realize that it is not just about me, it is about others. It feels good to know that I am working towards making a difference. And if I could leave behind one thing, my legacy, it would be that everyone can make a difference and with faith anything is possible.”

Dr. Dushanka Kleinman

Dr. Dushanka Kleinman, a 1973 alumnus of the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, now is Associate Dean for Research and Academic Affairs and Professor at the School of Public Health,  University of Maryland at College Park.  She is the former Chief Dental Officer of the U.S. Public Health Service (the first woman ever to hold that role) and holds the rank of Rear Admiral (Ret.).

Dushanka was co-executive editor of the landmark 2000 report, “Oral Health in America,” chronicling the state of oral health in this country, detailing how oral and general health are related, and enumerating opportunities to strengthen oral health.

In 2003, the Surgeon General released an equally important “Call to Action” for the nation’s dentists, dental organizations, governmental entities and social service organizations to deal with the silent and neglected epidemic of oral disease in America, which is particularly burdensome to the nation’s most vulnerable citizens-the poor, minorities, children and the elderly. As the chief dental officer of the United States in the early part of the 2000s, she played a leading role in promoting the Call to Action and getting the various players on board and cooperating.

“We must work together to address this call to action,” was Dushanka’s message, “because oral health is integral to general health.”

Despite already being Chief Dental Officer, Rear Admiral, and Deputy Director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, on Dec. 15, 2003, Dr. Kleinman was appointed to serve in the Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health as Assistant Director for NIH Roadmap coordination. The “NIH Roadmap” is a strategy to accelerate research discoveries into effective oral disease prevention strategies and new treatments.

She achieved all this while she and her husband, Joel Kleinman, raised their two children.

By William S. Bike

Director of Advancement and Alumni Affairs Communications

University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry

Dr. Debra Gray King

Dr. Debra Gray King is a woman with a clear vision and well-established niche in the dental field. She has developed a customer service driven staff, an incredible facility, sophisticated marketing systems and technologies that have elevated her practice, the Atlanta Center for Cosmetic Dentistry, to one of the top in the country.

As Dr. Paul Bass, Chairman of Fortune Management, notes, “With her tireless pursuit of creating the most outstanding cosmetic dental practice in America, it would be unthinkable, in my opinion, that she would not be in the top 25 women in dentistry in this country.”

Part of the reason for her success is based on the fact that Debra was an early adapter. Twenty-three years ago, before it was “cool” to be a cosmetic dentist, she decided to focus on cosmetic dentistry. She began to take as much continuing education in this area as she could, becoming Accredited by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry followed by achieving Fellowship in the AACD in 1998. Now, Debra is one of the leading cosmetic dentists in the world, well-known for transforming the smiles of numerous celebrities, CEOs and thousands of other high-profile and ordinary patients alike who have sought her out.

Because of the demand for her services, her typical daily schedule is to perform two cosmetic and complex cases every morning and see four new clients in the afternoon. It is a labor of love and a challenging schedule, but someone has to do it. “On a daily basis, we transform not only people’s teeth, but their face, and how they carry themselves. It is challenging to consistently deliver, day in and day out, high quality results to a demanding clientele,” she enthuses.

Debra credits much of her success to her determination.

“I see myself as able to accomplish a good deal and hold myself accountable for doing so.”

Debra’s practice also has served as trend setter in the field and a model for many others. For example, Dr. King has had a significant influence on the industry in reinventing the dental visit, and making it a pampering, pleasant experience. And she has always taken time out to teach, mentor others and speak to groups of dentists on the secrets of her success.

“Her practice is a model for others to follow and her work is not only incredible but inspirational,” explains Dr. Jeff Gray from San Diego.

Outside of the office, Dr. King enjoys spending time with her husband and their three teenagers.