How women are changing the dental industry: 12 share Women in DSO lessons learned

Beth Gaddis Headshot
Some of the Women in DSO “Empower and Grow” conference attendees
Some of the Women in DSO Empower and Grow conference attendees. Image courtesy of Beth Gaddis.

For the first time in history, women run more than 10% of Fortune 500 companies. Now more women than ever are entering the boardrooms and C-suites of dental organizations. They are also changing the face of clinical practice: More than half of dental students are women, and 37.7% of working dentists are women, according to a study published by the ADA

At the Women in DSO Empower and Grow conference in Las Vegas earlier this month, female leaders who run multimillion-dollar organizations and divisions shared their stories and experiences. From the CEO of one of the only nonprofit dental groups in the U.S. to leaders who shared how they're raising children with special needs, caring for sick parents, and making daily decisions that impact hundreds of employees and millions of patients, it was an inspiring three days.

This was the third year of the event and more than 900 people attended. Here, in their words, is why they came.

Dr. Aman Kaur, founder and president of Women in DSO and an experienced dental service organization (DSO) executive

"Dentistry has always been a woman-dominated industry. Despite the lion's share of work in various dental organizations being managed by women, most of the organizations' leadership teams continue to be male-dominated.

"Women In DSO has a simple mission of working with these organizations, as well as women in the industry, to ensure we have similar representation in leadership positions. It has been a joy to see Women In DSO emerge as a strong community of like-minded individuals -- men and women -- who are committed to elevating the dental industry by supporting each other. I look forward to seeing all of their hard work come to fruition as we lead the way for the entire healthcare industry, not just the dental teams."

Erika Williams, head of talent management and engagement at Dental Care Alliance

"I joined DCA in late January 2022 and this conference was held in March. It was my entry point into dentistry. To see women leading in this space, to meet Dr. Aman Kaur and the leadership team, I realized this was a group of women that I wanted to surround myself with. It's about more than the conference; there are online events every month where we can exchange ideas and solve problems. 

"It's beyond networking; it's more uplifting. It's not about here's my business card or here's my product; it's about figuring out how you can help someone in their personal journey or how they can help you. You can have real conversations. You can feel safe about being vulnerable. It just feels different than other conferences. 

"I love our Empower Lounge. It's not like any other exhibit hall. Yes, you get to meet vendors and see what's new. But you also can get your headshot taken, talk to social media experts -- it helps you establish your personal brand and the setup of your digital footprint."

Emma Cifuentes, COO of Progressive Dental Management

"It's not just about education and networking; it's a seismic shift in dentistry, where women take charge and lead the way! Progressive Dental Management leads by example -- over 90% of our providers, practice managers, and executives are women. That's the power of female leadership, driving meaningful change in our industry. 

"I'm a big believer in empowering women, and I absolutely love being able to support and showcase that. We all deserve to shine and be recognized, especially when we're talking about something we're passionate about."

Dr. Ankoo Raina, chief dental officer of Jefferson Dental and Orthodontics

"This was my first time attending and to be honest, I did not expect much. I expected it to be like any other conference, but it was so refreshing to see a group of kind, genuine, happy, successful women who are transforming the industry and changing the world. They are powerful leaders. It was so inspirational for me to be among so many great leaders and to hear their stories. I feel like this was one of the best conferences I have ever attended. 

"The biggest impact was the stories that you hear from other women. We sometimes are fighting our own battles and going through so many things, and it's so refreshing when you can sit down with these powerful leaders who have achieved so much and realize they too have tremendous challenges, which they overcome. 

"They are nurturing, they are taking care of their families, nothing stops them. There is a saying that courage is contagious, and I think that being among these powerful, inspirational, and courageous women is the best part. 

"If you are someone who wants to grow, wants to change the world, wants to give back to society, wants to give back to the industry, or just wants to be among your best cheerleaders, I think this is the best place to be. I would highly recommend every single woman who works in a DSO to come and be a part of this conference."

Sarah Sharfstein, vice president of commercialization at Aspen Dental

"The Women in DSO event was an incredible opportunity for women to celebrate each other's success and share best practices. It also created a safe space to discuss challenges and opportunities. Seeing more than 900 attendees there was absolutely incredible.

"Women bring a unique perspective and it's so incredibly important that women have a seat at the table. Studies show the more women in leadership positions, the greater the increase in productivity, enhanced collaboration, and greater commitment to their company."

Anita Gomez, vice president of operations at Rodeo Dental and Orthodontics

"This was my first year attending Women in DSO and it was incredibly valuable for me. It provided an opportunity to connect with other women in the field, share experiences, and gain insight into the challenges and opportunities in the dental industry.

"The biggest impact for me was hearing the success stories and strategies from accomplished women leaders, which inspired me to aim higher and pursue my goals with confidence. I’ll definitely return next year."

Sarah Ruberg, CEO of Our Thrive Tribe

"Something that I realized is I'm not alone. At some other events, I felt excluded, like I didn't belong when I said I worked with DSOs. Here, as an entrepreneur and as a woman, it gives me an opportunity to meet other amazing women that I have so much in common with.

"I almost backed out of being a mentor because it started the Monday after my Dad had passed away, and I thought, 'How am I going to be able to provide any value to anybody right now?' But mentorship was something that was really important to my Dad and it was important to me that I carry that on.

"I learned so much about myself as I went through scenarios with Caitlin (Waters) and it gave me confidence. I would give her advice and it worked, which felt really good.When my mentee won the Rising Star award, it was just amazing to see that."

Dr. Mary Pham, CEO of Lollipop Dental  

"This is my third year attending. I love to be surrounded by strong women who are leaders in our industry to really continue to build on the bonds that we have and to be inspired and motivate one another. Strengthening the relationships that go beyond the surface and deepen into friendships, that's priceless to me.

"Definitely step out of your comfort zone and come to Women in DSO and be surrounded by the most incredible, successful women in our industry who are here to uplift each other and support each other. It's really special."

Dr. Deborah Brown, CEO of My Community Dental Centers

"In the intricate world of dentistry today, DSOs encounter numerous challenges. Being a nonprofit organization with a unique model, we found it extremely beneficial to gather insights from panel discussions and industry professionals. This deep dive helped us discover essential strategies and practices necessary to overcome obstacles and drive our organization toward better serving our staff, patients, and mission.

"One remarkable aspect that caught my attention was the simple yet impactful approach to weekly meetings and the three questions introduced by Rahma Samow, the CEO of Clear Choice Dental Implant Centers. By asking straightforward but essential questions like inquiring about how team members are feeling, identifying any obstacles hindering their presence, and determining what actions are needed for success, Rahma initiates a fantastic method to align everyone at the beginning of each week.

Leading by example, she is the first to respond, which sets a positive tone for the meeting, allowing leaders to demonstrate humility and foster connections with their team members on a personal level. Taking the team's temperature is crucial, as it enables proactive resolution of potential workplace culture issues and ensures that team members feel valued and appreciated in the workplace. That's the culture I aim to embody, and it is my top priority."

Chris Hadziev, dental technology adviser at Planet DDS

"Women in DSO featured a perfect combination of inspirational and practical sessions. I enjoyed seeing leaders on the stage from so many groups that we support, including Lorri Detrick from Riccobene Associates Family Dentistry, who received the Women in DSO Leadership Award for Business ExcellenceI also enjoyed hearing Dr. Marion Bergman's story. In her soft-spoken way, she is a powerhouse and the story she told about being introduced to people who assumed her husband was the doctor resonated deeply with many women in the room.

"Dental is dominated by women. This event showcased the executive branch and it was motivating to see so many powerful women in one spot. We still have work to do to fill executive seats. Events like this are driving the industry forward."

Dr. Carrie Mauterer, clinical director at Peak Dental Services 

"Leadership in dentistry can sometimes leave you feeling isolated or even like an imposter. The environment that Women in DSO nurtures is a safe place where anyone of any gender identity can share failures, successes, ideas, and frustrations with other leaders in the field.

"Each year I learn more about the growth and trends of our dental industry through the poignant panel discussions. The most important part of the WinDSO conference for me is hearing other women's incredible stories of their lives and careers. That inspiration carries me through the next year until I can attend again!"

Brandi Carter, director of operations at Sage Dental   

"This year was my first year attending Empower and Grow, and it also happened to be my first year being nominated for the Women in DSO Business Leadership award. It was an honor and privilege to be surrounded by some of the most influential women in DSOs, the ones who paved the way for women like me.

"It was also a fantastic experience to make new connections with inspiring and strong-willed women who had backgrounds very similar to myself, where we were the underdogs and yet we ended up securing a spot at the table. My biggest takeaway was how this event truly called on us to not only rise but to bring a tribe with us. 

"The message was clear: As long as we are lifting each other up, nothing can stop us! Women in DSO ensures we all have a voice and encourages us to use it to cheer for one another day after day. It was truly a great first experience and I cannot wait to see what 2025 has in store for Women in DSO!"

Beth Gaddis is the editor in chief at Planet DDS, a dental technology company specializing in cloud-based practice management systems, digital imaging, and dental marketing services. Previously, she was the marketing director for two large dental service organizations. Prior to entering the dental industry, she was a journalist for 16 years in a variety of roles, including as a TV news producer at the CBS affiliate in Boston. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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