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 were hygienists; men filled the cavities and pulled the teeth.

Nowadays, 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. Their partnership, officially launched July 12, speaks to the strength of their relationship and the more open-minded ways of society.

When Abigail first mentioned becoming a dentist, her father reacted less than enthusiastically. “He said, ‘That is an awful idea,’ ” she said.

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

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

George Manter said it takes a certain kind of person to be happy as a dentist.

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

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

Bastey said more than 40 percent of the students in dental schools are now women. Two women hold key positions in Maine: Frances Miliano is executive director of the Maine Dental Association, and Denise Theriault heads the Maine Board of Dental Examiners.

Men still make up the majority of Maine dentists, but that’s because most of the practitioners earned their degrees when few women saw dentistry as 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 that Title IX, the 1972 law banning sex discrimination in academics and school-based 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 other traditionally male professions, including the legal, architectural and the medical fields.

Bastey isn’t sure what percentage of Maine dentists are women. But it’s rising as the old guard retires.

The signs of change already are evident. The Manters, for example, aren’t the first or only father-daughter dental team in the state. One in Biddeford features a father, a mother and a daughter, Bastey said.

Maine has a well-documented shortage of dentists — one that is likely to grow, given that more than 40 percent of Maine dentists are 55 or older.

More young people need to enter the profession to fill the void, but George and Abigail Manter said the fiscal barriers alone are difficult to surmount.

They said dental school can cost from $240,000 to well over $300,000, followed by the considerable cost of starting a practice. joining her father’s practice, Abigail avoided taking on that expense on her own.

Abigail hadn’t always wanted to be a dentist. Early on, she’d set her sights on the Olympics, as an alpine skier. She studied at Carrabassett Valley Academy, the ski school that produced such notable Olympians as Seth Wescott and Bodie Miller.

Between her sophomore and junior years at Saint Lawrence University, where she was studying math, Abigail decided to get a firsthand look at what her father did for work.

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

“I like working with my hands. I like talking to people. I like a challenge on a daily basis,” she said.

Abigail said she regularly consults with her dad during the workday. She values his 35 years of experience.

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

“She will be a better dentist than I was,” he said. “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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