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Overcoming Challenges By Building Relationships

As a child, Junetta Everett, RDH, dreamed of becoming a teacher or a nurse. Now, in a way, she’s both.

Junetta Everett, RDH
Junetta Everett, RDH

While enrolled in Wichita State University’s (WSU) dental hygiene program in the 1970s, Junetta Everett, RDH, realized how little people understood about dental hygienists and what they do. This was where her other interest of teaching came in as she and her classmates set out to educate the public about their profession.

Everett, who graduated in 1979 to become the first Black dental hygienist in Kansas, continued to expand on those dual interests. In 1987, she began working as a professional relations representative for Delta Dental of Kansas, becoming the insurance giant’s vice president of professional relations in 1995. 

Now retiring after 33 years, Everett recently offered us a glimpse into her barrier-breaking career.

1. What strategies have you used to expand diversity in the profession?

During hygiene school, an instructor urged me to consider another profession, saying, “This is an expensive curriculum, plus a lot of people may not be comfortable with your fingers in their mouths.” The challenge only made me more determined to persevere.

I began recruiting more minorities to the field in part by speaking to high school students about the WSU program and career possibilities in dental hygiene. Eventually I was able to offer scholarships in dental hygiene for people of color at WSU.

2. What were the advantages of working in the corporate world? 

Being a professional relations representative for Delta Dental gave me direct access to all of the dentists and dental offices in Kansas. My responsibilities included recruiting, educating, contracting, training, and compliance—all while maintaining my hygiene license. This also exposed me to corporate America, where I was able to build relationships, which opened numerous opportunities.

3. What is PANDA and how are you involved?

Prevent Abuse and Neglect through Dental Awareness (PANDA) is a program started in the mid-1990s by Delta Dental of Massachusetts and Missouri to provide education on how to detect and report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect. More than 60% of abuse occurs in the head and neck region, yet, less than 2% of the reports came from the dental profession because we either didn’t know what to look for or what to do about it. 

In Kansas, we created a coalition of public and private partnerships. In its first decade it educated more than 4,000 people, including dentists and dental hygienists. In 2008, the program was awarded the Governor’s Conference on Child Abuse Award of the Year. 

4. What sorts of barriers and challenges have you had to overcome as a Black dental hygienist in Kansas?

The biggest barrier I had to overcome was the fear that what the instructor, mentioned previously, said might be true. But I was always taught that I could do anything I put my mind to. Much of it had to do with knowing how to “be the only one in the room.”

I’ve actually found that being a Black dental hygienist has had advantages. I never had to look for a job in dental hygiene. Three of the five African American dentists in Wichita recruited me directly from hygiene school. 

5. Of which of your accomplishments are you most proud? 

I’ve served on and led a number of boards and committees in the dental profession and in corporate America and have focused on diversity and inclusion. But most noteworthy is the honor of being the first person of color, first health professional, and only the sixth woman to chair the board for the 103-year-old Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce, helping me to land in the Kansas African American Museum’s Trailblazer Hall of Fame.

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