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BrownGirl, RDH: Promoting diversity in the dental hygiene profession

Nov. 1, 2020
In this new series, we'll look more closely at the innovative work being done by our RCC influencers. First up is Martelle Coke, RDH, founder of Brown Girl, RDH, a nonprofit whose mission is to promote cultural diversity in the dental field.

RCC Influencer Spotlight

From its inception in 1913, the dental hygiene profession has comprised predominantly white women. The American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) was established in 1923, but it was not until the civil rights movement of the 1960s that it removed restrictions for admission such as race and color. The word “female” was removed from its constitution and bylaws in 1964.1 Historically, the dental hygiene profession has not been very diverse.

According to Data USA, in 2017, 82.2% of American dental hygienists were non-Hispanic white. Hispanic whites accounted for 6.64% and Asians 4.22%. Non-Hispanic Blacks comprised only 3.67% of the dental hygiene workforce. Women accounted for 95.6% of all dental hygienists.2

Many studies have shown the benefits of diversity in the workplace including different perspectives, faster problem solving, higher employee engagement, removal of language barriers, among others.3,4

In 2018, Martelle Coke, RDH, founded BrownGirl, RDH, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. Its mission, according to Coke, is to “promote cultural diversity in the dental field.” BrownGirl, RDH accomplishes its mission by removing cultural and economic barriers to joining the profession and establishing and promoting pathways to a career in dental hygiene.

BrownGirl, RDH awards 12 dental hygiene students a year with scholarships ranging from uniforms to full tuition paid. All awards are based on funding and donations available and may include instruments, loupes, board fees, Cavitron units, and other equipment such as handpieces. Scholarships are need/income based and anyone is eligible to apply as long as they meet the requirements as stated on the BrownGirl, RDH website (browngirlrdh.org).

Coke states that “in just over two years we have already awarded $17,000 in scholarships. Our membership community is over 2,500 members. Dental companies and professionals from all over the world are coming together to support our mission.”

Those who wish to support the mission of BrownGirl, RDH may do so through yearly memberships or donations. According to Coke, “Membership benefits for professionals include loupes giveaways, CE, CPR, and job resources. Student membership includes access to scholarships, internships, discounts, and mentorship programs.”

Most dental hygienists would agree that we have a rewarding profession. By encouraging minorities and men to enter our profession, BrownGirl, RDH is working to make it even better.  


  1. Hakes H. The history of dental hygiene: development through the years. Today’s RDH. June 16, 2020. https://www.todaysrdh.com/the-history-of-dental-hygiene-development-through-the-years/
  2. Data USA. Dental hygienists. https://datausa.io/profile/soc/dental-hygienists#ethnicity
  3. Deering S. What are the benefits of diversity in the workplace? Undercover Recruiter. https://theundercoverrecruiter.com/benefits-diversity-workplace/
  4. Zojceska A. Top 10 benefits of diversity in the workplace. TalentLyft. December 19, 2018. https://www.talentlyft.com/en/blog/article/244/top-10-benefits-of-diversity-in-the-workplace-infographic-included