Billion Healthy Mouths Club

Dr. Juliane von Hoyningen-Huene: “My experience proves that combining the roles of a dentist, politician and mother, is possible.”

Mothers should not merely be focused on their parental responsibilities and forget what they once dreamt about.

As the Chair of Women Dentists Worldwide, Juliane isn’t only a role model for young women, but an example politician eager to fight for rights. In her interview, Juliane revealed how asking and listening allows her to be a better leader, and why she believes young women should be encouraged to gain self-confidence. 

What has driven you to be politically active for so many years? 

I tend to ask myself the same question, especially because I’m quite a harmony-driven person and dealing with all the different personalities in politics can be quite challenging. Considering the context of the German society – where dental associations that advocate for dentists and address their issues are well-respected – advocating for the rights came very naturally to me. In hindsight, I had always been quite an active student when it came to justice.

What keeps me going in the field of politics are the enthusiastic people who are passionate about what they do and what they stand for. Seeing them coming together to change something gives me the drive to move on. Together, we don’t fight for personal rights but the rights of the whole group. I do believe that we have to stand up for our own needs, and voice our opinions, no matter what.

How do you manage to advocate for people, be a mother, and be a dentist – all at the same time? 

Well, I don’t think mothers should merely be focused on their parental responsibilities and forget what they once dreamt about, and my experience proves that it’s manageable. What gives me a headache, though, is when I find myself in a highly patriarchal company whose members do not understand the needs of a small human being. 

For this very reason, I find it great to be able to pursue politics with other women, also for the fact that they are primary caretakers of their kids. We meet to discuss the agenda while our kids play together. And my son understands I’m a happier person when I can do what I consider to be important, and that my private life has to be the second priority, sometimes. 

“I find it great to be able to pursue politics with other women, also for the fact that they are primary caretakers of their kids.”

In recent years, the number of mothers in politics has risen, but when you first started out this was a rarity. Can you describe the struggles you faced as a young mother in a chamber office?

The compromise I struggled with most was when I had to sacrifice time spent with my child in order to attend a full-day meeting. Before you have a kid, you don’t seem to worry much about the lack of personal time, but once you do, you realise that there are times when your kids need you.

Your family can often help you out if they are nearby, otherwise, you’ll hire a babysitter or someone you can trust. And I do let others take care of my kid, as this is also a good way for kids to get used to the company of others which I think is important. I believe that the saying “It takes a whole village to raise a child” is very accurate. It makes a huge difference if you just plough your own furrow and raise your child in isolation, or allow her or him to see other views and values. There will always be people with opinions you don’t agree with and I think it’s good for children to have to adapt to different environments.

Today, women are increasingly representing larger proportions of dental workforces. Such as in Finland (75%). And yet, in the United States, women hold just 18% of dental school dean positions and make up only 14.8% of major dental journal editorial boards.
Female clinicians are less likely than men to own a clinic or take post-graduate qualifications and the average annual income of full-time, self-employed women was 37% lower than the income of full-time, self-employed men, which clearly demonstrates the persistence of the gender wage gap.

World Dental Federation, Women in Dentistry 

What are the most pertinent issues female dentists face right now, worldwide?

The most common issues have less to do with dentistry itself – it’s society that challenges women most. A society that tells us how we should be as women, that we should be there for the family, that we should bake organic muffins and that we should not be late to pick up our kids from kindergarten otherwise you’re too ambitious. 

Once a woman has taken care of both her child and her job, there’s still much left to do that is mostly expected from a women, especially the household chores. The patients need treatment, and things such as taking care of the family and doing house-chores are not accepted as a relevant excuse. Society relies on women as dental practitioners, so why do we push them to be responsible for so many extra things?

Dentistry is one of the most expensive university studies and in Germany, for example, it’s funded by the public. So taking into account the fact that we have a privilege to study for free, when it comes to money and the patient care, a dentist has a moral responsibility to give back to society. 

Welcome to the Billion Healthy Mouths Club

Proper routines in prevention are the future of dentistry – that’s why we at Curaden launched the Billion Healthy Mouths Club – a community of dental professionals committed to the idea of having proper routines in prevention and a holistic approach to dentistry. Dentist Juliane von Hoyningen-Huene is one of those dental professionals who shares these values, and we proudly present her experience and thoughts with other like-minded people from the field. Keep reading our Gently magazine to discover more interviews with forward-thinking professionals from around the world.

Do you have an idea about different challenges in different countries? 

Yes. If you study dentistry in the US, you end up with huge debt, so after graduation you cannot afford to work for only 20 hours a week so as to also take care of your children. Becoming a dentist in the US means having debts that need to be paid off.

This year, we’ve been researching women dentists worldwide to see how complicated it is for them to engage in associations. For many women, being in leadership positions is still unimaginable.

That doesn’t come as a surprise – that more women are working as dentists, but there are fewer of them in the executive positions. 

Yes, and not just fewer. Mostly it is the elderly men who decide about our future. When you’re 70 years old, truth be told, you are beyond your prime career so why should you have a genuine interest to think about what happens in 20 years? Not only do I think it is a gender problem, but we need to support young women in leadership roles. 

So do you think it is also about leadership empathy? Do leaders need to be able to put themselves into others’ shoes? 

This is one side, but I also think that creative thinking is what you need in politics. And if you are in a political position for 20 years as a leader, without being a practical dentist at the same time, sooner or later it will be hard for you to know what your audience needs. Secondly, you have to listen to the dissatisfied dentists who talk negatively about your association. It doesn’t help you if you ignore it. Politicians often make decisions without listening to the whole group they lead. 

“Before you open your own office, I think it’s better to work first as an employee dentist for a few years to see a variety of specialisations. You can allow yourself time to explore what you really want in life, first.”

We could go deeper into that, but do you have an example of inequality or a systemic failure in the specific field of dentistry? 

In Germany, due to the regulations from the past, there’s an increased incidence of self-employed dentists.

In the past, dentists couldn’t become employed because they had to open their own office no later than two years after graduation. Right now, the number of employed dentists in the country is rising. I do believe that most people still want to have their own office, but people also like to have more time as an employee, that they can use to decide on their career path. 

In Germany there’s a period of life which we call a rush hour; you graduate, you get married, have children and perhaps engage in a couple of extra activities. It is more comfortable for young people to work as employees for 10 years, and only afterward decide to open their dream office. One cannot think of a great plan when you’re pushed into entrepreneurship, unless you’re ready for it. I think it’s better to work as an employee dentist for a few years, to see a variety of offices and specialisations. You can allow yourself time to explore what you really want in life, first. 

But some of the politicians, usually the older ones, often see employed dentists as a threat to the liberal profession, claiming the dentists just want to have it easy and are unwilling to undertake the risk of opening their own clinic. 

We have to take employed dentists seriously, and still have to motivate them to open their own offices, without treating them as second-class dentists. That’s one of the political issues that’s popped up regularly in Germany in the last ten years.

My role as a dentist is to decrease the level of chronic infections

Dr. Juliane von Hoyningen-Heune has been trained in several specialisations including environmental dentistry.  I try to bring patients back to the possibility of self-regulation. To reach this goal, the cooperation of doctors with various specialisations is needed. I can try to eliminate the stress from the teeth, but other doctors are needed too. I can do some suggestions, but without trained doctors who know all the necessary information, it will not work holistically.
Watch the following video to see Dr. von Hoyningen-Heune’s explanation on what the environmental dentistry is focused on.
Do you think that female dentists can somehow prepare to become future leaders? 

We’ve just had elections in Berlin and I spent hours calling my colleagues. Women tend to be more critical toward themselves and men are often more straightforward and ready to say “we do it like that”. My vision, though, is to figure out the best solution even if it takes longer. Tomorrow I can alter my opinion because I thought about it and talked it through with different people. I listen, consider, am open to other views, and this way I become a better leader for others. 

I noticed some women tend to fight for their position all by themselves as they find it hard to trust others. I think it’s important to open up about your self-doubts. Often I have no clue what to do but I am open about it. I know who to ask and I ask frequently. 

Do we need to show women more role models? 

Absolutely and that is also my mission. I am actively encouraging women to be there at the front and on top to become leaders and lecturers.

However, one can easily come across bias when it comes to leadership. For instance, a propensity to push through other people that are similar to you. I do prefer motivating other women, and men are likely to encourage other men. So I ask myself: why don’t we embolden ambitious people no matter what gender, instead of emboldening the gender? 

I agree that setting gender-based quotas isn’t natural, and yes, it should be crystal clear that it doesn’t matter what gender someone is. But as long as there’s no equal representation, I see my role as someone who encourages other women to their careers. 

Women don’t always have courage and often doubt their abilities, but drawn from my own experience, I know that positive motivation and encouragement are crucial to growth. I was lucky to be encouraged by people who pointed at me and said I should be a leader. And then I just took the bull by its horns and tried to make the best out of it. 

“I agree that setting gender-based quotas isn’t natural, and yes, it should be crystal clear that it doesn’t matter what gender someone is. But as long as there’s no equal representation, I see my role as someone who encourages other women to their careers.”

You were elected as a Chair of the Women Dentists Worldwidein 2019 in San Francisco, and before that, you were part of the board for three years. What have you done differently from your predecessors? 

We handed out questionnaires to dentists from all over the world to gather some data. I hope once we have the relevant numbers, we can use them to make a bigger difference. 

For example, we asked how many hours female dentists work in a specific country. In some countries, we see that women work less because they have to take care of the family, and in other countries, women dentists work the same number of hours as men do. At this point, we can analyse what makes it easier for some female dentists to have longer working days. To prove this, and be able to make a difference, we need this research, questionnaires and responses.

Dr. Juliane von Hoyningen-Huene comes from a small town in East Germany. Inspired by her mother, who worked as a dental technician, Juliane aspired to become a dental professional. The combination of manual creation and general creativity, while also paying attention to the whole body, the psychology and the uniqueness of each case, has made her loyal to her childhood dream up to this day. Dr. Juliane von Hoyningen-Huene graduated from the university of Leipzig, Germany in 2007, and has been involved in dental politics since she was a student. In the past, she served in several associations including the International Association of Dental Students, Young Dentists Worldwide and the German Women Dentists Association. In addition to being a board member of the Berlin Dental Association, in 2019 Juliane became the Chair of the Women Dentists Worldwide/Section of FDI. Juliane has been trained in several specialisations such as TMD, restorative, biological and environmental dentistry. She loves to inspire other women dentists in leadership and all aspects of everyday dentistry.