Media Advisory: UB to welcome first female American Indian dentist

Release Date: October 22, 2019

Woman standing in front of wall holding clipboard.
“A dental career is not even a remote consideration for most American Indian young people. This is due, in part, to the fact that most have never even seen an American Indian dentist.”
Jessica Ann Rickert, first female American Indian dentist

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Jessica Ann Rickert, DDS, will visit the University at Buffalo to share her journey in becoming the first female American Indian dentist in the world.

During the event, “Change Perceptions… Go Beyond Expectations,” Rickert will also address the alarming shortage of American Indians in dental schools across the United States.

The program, which is sponsored by the UB School of Dental Medicine, is scheduled for Oct. 23 at 5 p.m. in the Harriman Hall ballroom. The event is free and open to the public. A map is available online.

“We at the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine are honored to have the first female American Indian dentist, Dr. Jessica Rickert, accept our invitation to speak at our dental school. All of our students, staff and faculty excitedly look forward to this historical event,” says Othman Shibly, DDS, clinical professor and assistant dean for diversity and inclusion in the UB School of Dental Medicine.

Nonexistent in dentistry

Nearly 10,500 students applied to attend dental school in the United States this fall. Just 16 of those students are American Indian, according to the American Dental Education Association.

The barriers to higher education for American Indian students are numerous: inadequate federal funding of secondary education programs on tribal lands, transportation challenges, a history of social injustices, cultural dissonance and a shortage of American Indian educators.

The result is that American Indians are largely nonexistent in dentistry.  

Despite American Indians comprising 3% of the country’s population, they make up 0.2% of dentists, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Indian Health Services, an HHS division that provides medical and health services to American Indian and Alaska Native communities, are also severely understaffed.

“I strongly feel that an ideal solution to the shortage of dentists in Indian country is to increase the number of American Indian dentists from federally recognized tribes,” said Rickert. “A dental career is not even a remote consideration for most American Indian young people. This is due, in part, to the fact that most have never even seen an American Indian dentist.

“I do not believe the American Indian dental dilemma is a hopeless situation. It simply requires all of us involved in the dental profession to step up and help. There are plenty of smart and capable American Indian students who could become marvelous dentists if they were guided in the right direction.”

About Jessica Ann Rickert

Rickert, a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, made history when she became the first female American Indian dentist in the nation after graduating from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry in 1975.

In addition to establishing a private dental practice, Rickert has served as a dentist at many public health venues. She helped develop prevention and orthodontics programs for the dental clinic at the Children’s Aid Society in Detroit, and formed an intertribal dental clinic in Detroit.

Rickert has held leadership positions in the Michigan Dental Association and Society of American Indian Dentists. In 2001, she began a dental advice column that was syndicated by many prevalent American Indian newspapers across the nation. She is also the author of the book, “Exploring Careers in Dentistry.”

Her efforts have earned her induction into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame, and an American Dental Association Access Award.

Media Contact Information

Marcene Robinson
News Content Manager
Dental Medicine, Libraries, Nursing, Pharmacy

Tel: 716-645-4595
marcener@buffalo.edu