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The Sindecuse Museum of Dentistry, located on the University of Michigan’s campus in Ann Arbor, Mich., has launched a new, fun activity to engage young students to learn about dentistry.

The project is a coloring activity with artwork that features Dr. Jessica Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation), who became the first female Native American dentist in 1975 after graduating from the University of Michigan Dental School.

When she became a dentist in 1975, she also became the second Native American dentist. Dr. George Blue Spruce (Laguna/Ohkay-Owingeh Pueblo) became the first Native American dentist in 1956.

Even today, there only about 300 practicing Native American dentists in the country.

The coloring activity project is the brainchild of Dr. Rickert, who is now retired from practicing dentistry, but spends her time inspiring young Native Americans to become in involved in the STEM field. She would like to see more Native Americans become dentists. She believes students need to be inspired early in their educational path because thosse choosing dentistry as a career need to have science courses in their background for admission into dental schools. 

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Dr. Rickert explains that this number of Native American dentists should be much higher and attributes this low number to lack of representation. 

“Never having seen an American Indian dentist, students do not imagine themselves as dentists,” Dr. Rickert said.

The coloring project was designed by her niece, Monica Rickert-Bolter (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation), a Chicago-based artist.

Dr. Rickert is featured in Sindecuse’s Museum Student Reflections Exhibit. In this exhibit she reveals that she was one of six women in her class of 140, and the first Native dental student. 

Dr. Rickert was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2009 and is profiled in the National Institutes of Health’s 2017 book, The Power of Role Models: A Collection of Native American Role Models. She is currently the Anishinaabeg Dental Outreach Specialist for Delta Dental Insurance of Michigan. 

In coming months, the University of Michigan School of Dentistry will distribute packets to tribes and schools. If you desire packets, contact:

Tamara Barnes, Curator, Sindecuse Museum of Dentistry at the University of Michigan

734-763-0767, [email protected]



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The Native News Health Desk is made possible by a generous grant from the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation as well as sponsorship support from the American Dental Association. This grant funding and sponsorship support have no effect on editorial consideration in Native News Online. 
About The Author
Neely Bardwell
Author: Neely BardwellEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Neely Bardwell (descendant of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indian) is a staff reporter for Native News Online. Bardwell is also a student at Michigan State University where she is majoring in policy and minoring in Native American studies.