WATERVILLE — George Manter had been a dentist for nearly a decade when his daughter Abigail entered the world.

In those days, men dominated the upper tier of the dental profession. Women might be hygienists, but men filled the cavities and pulled the teeth.

Nowadays, though, patients who walk into Silver Street Dentistry can have their choice of Manters, and it’s a gender and generational choice.

George and Abigail Manter have become a dad and daughter dental duo and their partnership, officially launched July 12, speaks both to the strength of their relationship and the more open-minded ways of society.

When Abigail first mentioned her interest in becoming a dentist, however, her father reacted less than enthusiastically.

“He said ‘That is an awful idea,’ ” Abigail said.

She understood that he really didn’t mean what he said — at least not entirely. His purpose, she explained, was to make her consider her choice carefully and not to let thoughts of pleasing dad sway her thinking.

“That gave me the ability to decide for myself,” she said.

George Manter said any person who considers dentistry as a career has to be clear. It takes a certain person to be happy as a dentist, he said.

“It is a confined job,” he said, “in a confined space. It would be a miserable job for the wrong person.”

New model

John Bastey, the Maine Dental Association’s director of governmental affairs, said the old model of dentistry is decaying fast as more and more women enter the profession.

Bastey said more than 40 percent of those enrolled in dental schools are women these days. He points out, too, that two women hold prominent positions in the Maine dental community: Frances Miliano is the executive director of the Maine Dental Association and Denise Theriault heads the Maine Board of Dental Examiners.

Most of Maine dentists are still men, but that is because the profession is aging state and nationwide, and most of the practitioners earned their dental degrees in an era when few women considered dentistry a viable career option.

Abigail Manter, 27, saw the new age of dentistry at Tufts Dental School in Boston. She said the program had an equal number of men and women.

George Manter, 60, said Title IX, the landmark 1972 legislation that banned sex discrimination in academics and athletics, played a pivotal role in breaking down gender barriers.

“Title IX began to make women believe they could do anything,” he said, “and not only success in athletics.”

George Manter said the legislation opened doors to many other traditional male professions as well, including the legal, architectural and the medical fields.

“All of sudden people began to say what’s wrong with women doing these other professions?” he said.

Bastey is not sure what percentage of Maine dentists are women. But the percentage is rising as the old guard retires and the ranks are replenished from a dental school pool that has almost as many women as men.

The signs of change already are evident. The Manters, for example, are not the first or only father and daughter dental team in the state. Maine has several father and daughter practices, including one in Biddeford that features a father, mother and a daughter, Bastey said.

Home grown

Maine has a well-documented dentist shortage, particularly in the rural areas of the state, and one that is likely to grow worse given that more than 40 percent of Maine dentists are 55 or older and expected to retire soon.

More young people, men or women, need to enter the profession to fill the void, but both George and Abigail Manter said the financial barriers alone are difficult to surmount.

They said the cost of dental school can run from $240,000 to well over $300,000 and then there is the considerable cost of starting a practice.

In that respect, Abigail was lucky. By joining her father’s practice, she was able to avoid the burden of taking on that expense on her own.

But even if financial barriers did not exist, the dental profession is seldom on top of most children’s career-options list. That was different for Abigail Manter.

Inevitably, she would hear “dentist talk” at home. And visits to the clinic were a regular part of Abigail’s life growing up.

But that didn’t mean she had ambitions of becoming a dentist. She set her sights on the Olympics as an alpine skier instead. She spent her high school years at Carrabassett Valley Academy, the prestigious ski school that produced such notable Olympians as Seth Wescott and Bodie Miller.

Dentistry eventually caught up to her, however. Between her sophomore and junior years at Saint Lawrence University, where she was pursuing a math degree, Abigail decided to get a firsthand look at what her father did for work.

Right fit

Sometimes things just click. That’s what happened with Abigail and dentistry.

“I actually came and worked with my Dad one summer,” she said, “and it just made sense. I like working with my hands. I like talking to people. I like a challenge on a daily basis.”

Dentistry, she said, turned out to be similar to the slalom skiing she competed in at CVA. Both involve highly technical training and equipment and sometimes having to react quickly and calmly to the unexpected, she said.

“In skiing, you have to know that such and such is coming up and act accordingly,” she said. “Same thing when you are in somebody’s mouth. You need to negotiate what’s there, identify problems.”

Some daughters, though, might balk at working with their fathers. Not Abigail. In many ways, the two are kindred spirits. George is a skier and, like his daughter, he earned an undergraduate degree in math and studied dentistry at Tufts.

They also have a similar demeanor. Both are calm and levelheaded, personalities well suited to helping patients who can be extremely agitated and fearful.

Abigail said she regularly consults with her dad during the workday. She values his 35 years of experience, realizing the great resource that it is.

But her father is equally impressed with her. And he has high expectations for her as a dentist.

“There is no question in my mind,” he said, “that she will be a better dentist than I was. She will be able to use the information I have, and she has access to the best equipment. That’s just the way it evolves.”

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