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SmileCon summit tackles diversity in dentistry

Panelists share ways ADA can create inclusive culture within profession

October 12, 2021

By Mary Beth Versaci

Photo of Diversity and Inclusion Summit
Diversity in dentistry: Moderator Todd Ester, D.D.S. (from left), and panelists Tawana Ware, D.D.S.; Maritza Morell, D.M.D.; Kelley Hollingsworth-Ryals, D.D.S.; and Michael Farmer, D.M.D., gather for the Diversity and Inclusion Summit on Oct. 12 at SmileCon.
Las Vegas — Panelists shared various ideas for how the American Dental Association can create a culture of inclusion and belonging within the dental profession during the Diversity and Inclusion Summit on Oct. 12 at SmileCon.

Moderated by Todd Ester, D.D.S., assistant dean for diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, the panel included Tawana Ware, D.D.S., ADA Diversity and Inclusion Committee member and ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership graduate; Maritza Morell, D.M.D., ADA Diversity and Inclusion Committee member and ADA Institute for Diversity and Inclusion graduate; Michael Farmer, D.M.D., ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership graduate; and Kelley Hollingsworth-Ryals, D.D.S., president-elect of the New Mexico Dental Association.

"Diversity in dentistry means taking that feisty, bright person like I was growing up, having the resources — so we can have a path, but there have to be resources involved — to allow people to take that path to open doors," Dr. Ware said.

Dr. Morell said she received scholarships that supported her along her educational journey, and she emphasized the importance of scholarships and mentorships to welcome a more diverse population into the dental profession and help them succeed.

"This is the product of diversity and inclusion and what things can do for you with scholarships and support," she said.

Dr. Farmer pointed to steps the ADA can take to make LGBTQ dentists feel more welcome, such as holding events for LGBTQ dentists or continuing programs students experience in dental school.

"If you're an LGBTQ student looking for a school and they have those kinds of programs, it's definitely going to encourage you to apply there and encourage you to go there," he said. "And I think the key is bridging that gap into the ADA whenever they finish and having something for them there as well."

As a dentist practicing in a dental service organization setting, Dr. Hollingsworth-Ryals mentioned the importance of the ADA broadening its acceptance of dentists choosing this career path.

Because many recent dental school graduates are joining DSOs, it is important for the ADA to address the unique needs of these dentists, she said.

"If we're not capturing this DSO ADA component, then we're going to be starting to lose members rapidly," Dr. Hollingsworth-Ryals said.