Top 25 Women in Dentistry: Top Women in the Industry

Ina Pockrass, CEO of Transcendentist No one man, woman or dental practice can single-handedly save the planet. But if any one comes close, it’s Ina Pockrass.

Ina Pockrass, CEO of Transcendentist

No one man, woman or dental practice can single-handedly save the planet. But if any one comes close, it’s Ina Pockrass.

A legislative aide in U.S. Congress and lawyer at corporate firms in her “past life,” since 2002 she has taken her expertise in marketing, intellectual property and sustainable business to the dental industry. Together, she and her husband, Dr. Fred Pockrass, created a model for eco-friendly dentistry by opening the first green dental office in the country-Transcendentist-which now sees an average of 30 new patients a month with virtually no traditional marketing programs and produces more than $1.2 million a year. The practice is the inspiration for a Transcendentist-branded product line-now distributed by Discus Dental-that has the potential to prevent millions upon billions of paper and plastic infection control waste products from entering landfills.

As the Co-Founder of the Eco-Dentistry Association (EDA), Ina takes her private passion public in new ways, working to educate the profession about the many different facets of green dentistry and setting industry-wide standards that consumers can rely on. Her days are filled with everything from public speaking and writing about green dentistry, to designing and developing new green dental products and everything in between. “I’m the Yoda of green dentistry,” Ina says. “People in the industry seek me out for my expertise.”

It’s a strangely wonderful position Ina finds herself in these days-making an impact on an industry she only recently calls her own. “I could have never predicted that I would work in dentistry and that I would be so passionate about transforming the industry,” she says. But now, the longer she stays in the industry, the more respect she holds for its practitioners.  “There is so much pressure on dentists,” Ina points out. “They have to be top notch at their craft, good business people, good marketers and good managers; that’s a tall order.”

With that understanding, she knows eco-friendly innovations for the practice need to be presented in a way that dental practices can participate at different levels-improving in small, strategic steps rather than sitting on the sidelines, overwhelmed.

Ina believes that stressing the importance of doing anything it takes to clean up the environment-and doing it now-will make a difference, especially in the wake of the Gulf oil disaster. “As a species we have not a moment to lose to come up with alternatives to our polluting, oil-based economy,” she says. “It is incumbent on every industry to look at its practices and promptly make changes."

Candy Ross, RDH

Imagine a role that allows you to touch the lives of children, men and women in uniform, future dentists and the thought leaders helping shape what comes next in the dental profession. As Director of Professional Relations for the Imaging Group of DEXIS, Gendex Dental Systems and Imaging Sciences International, Candy Ross gets to do just that.

After 35 years in the industry, “I have had the privilege to see firsthand how the products from our companies can change lives, be it children through charity programs, our country’s unsung heroes deployed in other areas of the world, and our efforts in disaster identification,” she says.

In her role, Candy is responsible for finding partnership opportunities, driving continuing education programs, acting as a liaison with philanthropic dental organizations (Give Kids A Smile, Mission of Mercy and TeamSmile), and sharing information on these activities with other team members within the imaging companies. She is involved with multiple advisory boards and diligently maintains active relationships with key opinion leaders and dental associations.

After watching her mother struggle to support two children after her father died, Candy wanted a dependable job. Although career advice came from her uncle, a dentist, and her sister, a nurse, it was her biology professor who made a comment that led Candy to choose her profession. “While I was wrestling with my decision-do I really want dentistry or possibly nursing?-he suggested, ‘since you enjoy biology/microbiology so much, why not think about dentistry, but think about the possibly of expanding to work in dental research.’ I wish I could have found that professor years later to say ‘thank you,’ ” Candy says. “His simple encouragement changed my entire career.”

With the encouragement from her professor, Candy graduated from the University of Rhode Island, but it was her persistent persona that got her a job. “Shortly after graduation, I marched up to Forsyth Dental Research Institute in Boston-without an appointment,” Candy explains, “and told them I was interested in working in dental research and asked what I needed to do to get started. I left with a job!” 

Her professional development goes beyond just being in the right place at the right time. “My faith has made a huge difference in my life. There was a time when it was all about me,” Candy explains, “but now I realize I’m not in charge. There is a plan for my life. I am truly blessed and thankful for the remarkable experiences I have had within dentistry that have shaped my career.”

June King

When June King followed her sister from Jamaica to the U.S. nearly 40 years ago, it wasn’t with a master plan for making her way in the dental industry. Her sister, an employee with Whaledent International (now known as Coltène/Whaledent), was able to get June an interview. It proved to be a fortuitous connection. “I literally got off the plane from Jamaica and went to work,” June says with a laugh, “thanks to Bernie Weissman of Dentatus USA, then President and founder of Whaledent Int’l.”

Not one to coast, June didn’t just take the position, she adopted the industry, made it her own and did all she could to learn the ins and outs of work-including attending New York School of Mechanical Dentistry and State University of New York in Brooklyn. “The industry has an addictive atmosphere and you get to work with great people,” she explains.

As described by her peers, June quickly became “that person” in the office who could do almost anything she was asked to do with little or no direction. Today, she is the National Accounts Manager for Coltène/Whaledent, translating into about 65% of the company’s North American business. She handles the job with ease as she considers herself to be a true business partner and friend to many of her accounts.

June is proud of the strides and friendships she has made within the industry, yet she is quick to say, “It was a good ole boys club when I started, and in some sense it still is.” The key, she says, is to have confidence, trust, character and a clear vision of what you want and the rest will come.

Pam Hemmen, Director of the Patterson Technology Center

When Pam Hemmen joined EagleSoft Inc. as a sales representative in 1994, it was with a staff of 10 and the industry-wide perception that high-tech meant high-testosterone. Today, she is the director of the Patterson Technology Center-based in Effingham, Ill.-leading a team of nearly 400 people and watching as women disprove every assumption about any limitations they may have as leaders in digital dentistry.

With past experiences in sales, marketing and technical support, in her role as Director she is ultimately responsible for the teams that develop, train, sell and/or support some of the leading technologies in dentistry. From her perspective at Patterson, working with not only EagleSoft practice management software, but also CAESY patient education programs, Sirona’s CEREC CAD/CAM technology, Schick CDR sensors, Patterson Imaging, and Patterson Computer Hardware-Pam is able to see women as masters of multi-tasking, using the technological tools available to them to help make their practices more patient-focused, efficient and successful.

“Being director of the Patterson Technology Center is rewarding for me not only personally but also because of the opportunities that our technologies create for our employees and customers,” Pam explains. “And Patterson offers the best technology services. We work on innovating current products and new technologies.”

 “I like to work for a company that is committed to its customers,” she continues. “I enjoy the fact that the company grows with the dental industry. I knew it was the job for me because I always wanted to use technical products to help make people more efficient.”

Dr. Linda Niessen, Vice President, Chief Clinical Officer, Dentsply Int’l

Dr. Linda C. Niessen is the type of woman who could never be honored for just one accomplishment. In the dental industry for the last 30 years, she has worn numerous hats-professor, lecturer, writer, television host, association president and public health advocate. In her current roles as Vice President, Chief Clinical Officer, DENTSPLY International and Clinical Professor at the Baylor College of Dentistry, Linda is able to put her variety and depth of experience to impressive use, primarily focusing on the populations’ disease levels.

“It excites me that I’m working to improve the health of the public,” she says. Her work on public health dentistry issues is well known, and she has helped lead the profession as president of the American Association of Public Health Dentistry and the American Board of Dental Public Health.

A leading expert in geriatric dental care, Linda has been recognized for her work improving dental care to people with Alzheimer’s disease. Also a force for women’s oral health issues, she has served as president of the American Association of Women Dentists.

A less “traditional” point on her CV is her role as host of a syndicated television news report called Dental Health Check. Whether it’s on a podium, in a classroom or on TV, she is a teacher at heart. “If I wasn’t teaching in the dental industry, I would still be teaching somewhere else,” she shares. “I believe in the serendipity of one’s career.”

Of course, she has faced obstacles, one of the biggest being the search for balance. “No one wants to sacrifice a family for a career,” she says. “You have all these balls up in the air, you know, every now and then one ball drops. But life goes on, it doesn’t stop.”

People throughout the dental profession and countless patients are thankful that Linda’s work continues. Of her many accomplishments, she is most proud of the people she has influenced and inspired.

Heather Colicchio, Founder of AADOM

Seven years ago, fate knocked on Heather Colicchio’s door when her friend, a dentist, came to her for help. Heather immediately stepped up, ultimately leaving one successful career for a completely different one.

For the last seven years, Heather has successfully worked as the Founder and President of the American Association of Dental Office Managers (AADOM). She has inspired others in the industry to strive for excellence in their positions as Office Manager. She oversees all aspects of AADOM and runs its National Conference. But before she started AADOM, Heather was inspiring a whole other industry: the coffee industry.

Heather owned a chain of gourmet cafes for 10 years before jump-starting her career in the dental industry. “I never intended to work in dentistry,” Heather laughs. “It’s actually really funny because my uncle, who was a physician, called me and told me that he had spent his entire life in school, and how much sacrifice was involved, so I did not want to go into any kind of medicine.”

That same uncle encouraged Heather to open her cafes in hospitals. But when her friend, the dentist, came to Heather, frustrated because she could not find an association to help her start her new office, Heather stepped in. “I went to all these different companies to ask them where she should go, and I couldn’t find anyone who could help us,” she explains. “I got everyone’s business cards and they actually ended up calling me for help.”

That ‘s when she knew she was meant to have a career in the dental business. But it’s her work ethic and great ideas that have kept her business thriving. “Work ethic is a funny thing,” Heather says. “I guess I’ve always had an excellent work ethic, because of my mom. She always taught me the value in earning your own money and learning everything you can.”

And while learning the value of a dollar has certainly helped Heather, it wasn’t always easy. “I really had to learn to say, ‘No,’ ” she admits, “In the beginning, I said, ‘Yes,’ to everything and it almost really hurt me. The most valuable thing I think anyone in any career can do is learn what is really important and what isn’t; and say no to the things that aren’t.”

What Heather has found to be truly important is her family-her husband and two kids-and her pursuits with AADOM. “I am just so proud of the respect the association has gained in this industry and what it has done to elevate the status of our members and their profession. What started off as a small idea turned into something really big and awesome.”