Celebrating Dental Assistants!
By Kimberly Bland, CDA, EFDA, M.Ed.
President, American Dental Assistants Association
March 2015 is a very special month for the dental assisting profession. Not only is Dental Assistants Recognition Week is being observed March 1-7, 2015, March 17, 2015 is the official 90th birthday of the American Dental Assistants Association! It was on that date in 1925 that the ADAA was officially incorporated in the state of Illinois. Looking back at the history of dental assisting, it is truly astonishing to review the transitions that occurred within the profession as well as note the accomplishments some of its pioneers.
The profession of dental assisting dates back to 1885 when Dr. C. Edmund Kells of New Orleans began utilizing his wife as an assistant in his dental practice. Dr. Kells was a pioneer in many aspects of the dental profession. He was the first person to expose a dental radiograph in the United States and was known for many inventions and publications that, to this day, serve to benefit the practice of dentistry.
As Kells became more successful in his practice, he soon realized the need for a second skilled assistant and hired a teenage girl, Malvina Cueria, to assist him full time. It should be noted that during the turn of the 20th century, it was still the social norm that women would only seek dental treatment with the consent of their husbands. With the news that Dr. Kells always had his wife and Malvina, two women in attendance, the dental practice thrived as women began to feel safe to seek dental treatment without the husband’s permission or his presence. Soon afterwards, many other dental practices began advertising they, too, had “Ladies in Attendance.” The profession of dental assisting had been born!
In 1911, Dr. Henry Fowler, a New York City Dentist, hired Juliette A. Southard as a dental assistant. Juliette was a very intelligent and dedicated professional with remarkable leadership skills. Noting that a local society of dental assistants formed in 1917 in Nebraska, Juliette was inspired to begin her own local society in New York in 1921. With the success of her local organization, Juliette was inspired to unite all dental assistants within the country. As women had just recently earned the right to vote and women’s rights movements within the United States were still going strong, Juliette and a fellow dental assistant Jessie Ellsworth, who happened to be President of the Chicago and Cook County Dental Assistants Association, successfully petitioned to attend the American Dental Association convention in Cleveland, Ohio in 1923.
Inspired by the ADA, Juliette orchestrated a national convention of dental assistants in Dallas in 1924 and was elected president during this organizational meeting of what now being called the American Dental Assistants Association. Shortly thereafter, the ADAA’s constitution and bylaws were drafted and on March 17, 1925 the state of Illinois officially incorporated the American Dental Assistants Association. To this day, the Association headquarters remains in the Illinois village of Bloomingdale, just outside of Chicago.
In 2015 the profession of dental assisting endures and as dentistry advances with new knowledge and techniques, dental assisting diversifies and expands. Dental assistants continue to work chairside with the dentist but in today’s world of technology they can also be found performing expanded functions, taking X–rays, managing the business office, teaching, and working in insurance or sales. Regardless of the specialization, dental assistants are vital to the success of all dental practices. And to think it all began with the “Ladies in Attendance.” March 17, 1925…it’s a date being remembered this year by the American Dental Assistants Association.
The ADAA is also proud to celebrate Dental Assistants Recognition Week, scheduled for March 1–7, 2015. This week–long tribute to the commitment and dedication dental assistants is being sponsored by the ADAA, the American Dental Association, the Canadian Dental Assistants Association and the Canadian Dental Association. “Dental Assisting: Embracing the Changes of the Profession” is the theme for the 38th annual Dental Assistants Recognition Week. It is a time for dental assistants to receive greater recognition for their own unique and diverse contributions to the dental profession and the dental health care of the public.
The American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA) has proudly been the recognized voice of dental assisting for 90 years. It remains committed to promoting quality dental health care to the public and enhancing the public image and stature of the dental assisting profession.