As I’m sure you are aware, the scientific and technical industries can be very male-dominated, so our Women Revolutionizing series was made to showcase the stories of female leaders across those industries, and listen in on their experiences.

Our aim is to inspire the next generation of women, by giving an insight into what attracted individuals to this career, their experiences and words of advice for those either considering joining the industry or hoping to progress in their careers.

I help dental manufacturers hire commercial teams and leaders across the US, and I had the privilege of speaking to Sharon Bournes on the barriers she’s faced as a woman in dentistry, as well as her insight into work-life balance and advice for other women in the industry. Sharon Bournes is a VP of Customer Marketing and Engagement at National Dentex.


Thank you for taking the time to do this Women Revolutionizing interview with me. Let me introduce myself. I’m a dental recruiter, and my sole focus is the US market. I’ve been recruited in dental for going on 5 and a half years now.

Thank you for having me, Russell. My name is Sharon Bournes. I’m the Vice President of Customer Marketing and Engagement for National Dentex. National Dentex is the largest dental lab network in the United States, and we fabricate any type of dental restoration you can imagine, from appliances to implants, to regular crowns and bridges.


So, what was it that kick-started your career in dental?

It’s a very interesting story because I started my career initially in TV and news media and worked as a news reporter for about 8 to 9 years, then I transitioned to working at what was then Biomet 3i and is now ZimVie, working in their communications/marketing group for dental implants and regenerative materials and abutments and restorative materials. It was a wonderful experience. I learned so much, I learned all about the dental industry, had the ability to travel the world, had the ability to meet dentists – not just the general dentist population but also specialists such as periodontists and oral surgeons, and prosthodontists, and had some great teachers during that time in the dental field essentially showing me surgery and showing me how abutments are placed. It was very interesting and helped me acquire a love for the dental field.


What made you join the dental industry specifically?

That’s a very good question. In the area in which I live, Biomet 3i was and is a very strong presence here. So, I knew that I wanted to work in medical devices and that I enjoyed the medical and the health field in particular. Biomet 3i allowed me to enter into the industry, and it was really exciting for me as someone who had worked specifically in the media and the news world since exiting college and university, to be able to have the opportunity to enter into an industry that I at the time had no experience with, so, it was a matter of learning quickly. ‘What am I doing? What is this industry about? What is the segmentation? Who are these dentists and specialists? What is interesting to them? And how can I best communicate our messages as a company to these individuals?’


What do you think are the main challenges you face as a woman in the industry and what have you encountered yourself on that?

I think the main challenges aren’t even based on a woman or a man they’re just in general. I think when you enter the dental industry, it is very important that you learn the terminology, that you learn how to interface with the segmentation – so in other words the dentists and the specialists  – immediately because these are very busy individuals, they are helping people restore their smiles every day, they’re conducting a very important health care service to the population.

They don’t have a lot of time to teach you from the ground up what it is they’re doing and why they would be interested in hearing about whatever value you bring to them at that particular moment. So, it was difficult at first because I had no experience with dental implants or abutments or crowns or bridges or any of that and I had to make a conscious effort to learn. I read a lot of books, I was online, and I attended numerous surgeries and procedures, numerous conferences, and numerous forums, that’s the best way to dive in. There isn’t much time to get up to speed. And I believe that’s probably the case with any industry that you enter that’s in the healthcare field, you have to make a conscious effort, especially if you didn’t come from that field, initially to learn as quickly as possible.

You’re very unique in that you have 5 and a half years of experience in dental. I know this isn’t a question for me, but just for you – you’re incredibly valuable to your organization. Because once you understand what is important to these organizations and these manufacturers in the industry, it makes you a very effective recruiter because you know what they’re looking for. They’re not looking for somebody who necessarily was involved in selling air conditioning units or marketing air conditioning units. They’re looking for someone who can at least understand the patient’s life cycle and the dentist or dental clinician’s life cycle. So, I think that makes you very effective the longer you’re in it, for sure.


So, why do you think there’s a lack of women in the dental industry and what do you think can be done about that?

There are quite a few women in the dental industry. The areas where I’ve seen more women populate the roles are education and marketing, and I have worked with some clinical directors who are female. I think in general when people think about dentistry, they don’t understand if they’re not in the business how vast and interesting this landscape is. They think, ‘Well if I get into dentistry, I’m gonna be working in a dental office I’m gonna be helping people spit fluoride into cups.’ They don’t realize in the general population, that dentistry encapsulates labs, and dental implants, which are fascinating, regenerative materials, crowns, bridges, composites, and resin. There are so many areas in the dental industry that are evolving and are exciting and interesting.

Especially, and this should resonate given that I worked in the news business where I was covering exciting things all the time, for me to say that I think that the dental industry is interesting and evolving and exciting. I think that we need to do a better job in the dental industry of making these positions and these roles exciting to individuals who may not have necessarily a dental background, but who want to market, sell, design, and engineer the next generation of tools and services and products and devices that will help people regain their smile and their ability to eat.

I mean, if you think about it as a human being, really our ability to smile, our ability to eat – those are two very important aspects of what we do every day and dentistry is all about that. It’s all about enabling patients to resume their life. It’s all about the patient. So, when you realize that, and then the digital dentistry component we are now evolving into a digital workflow and catering the restorations to the patients and their anatomy into what is best for them. And also, what is best for the dentist – faster, more accurate expedited, dentistry – and in some cases, even dentistry via Zoom or teams, that’s exciting.

Not all industries whether they be healthcare or not are evolving that quickly and have that much opportunity and potential, so I think that women would be more inclined to apply for these roles to be a part of this revolution, if they realized how exciting and how many opportunities, there are for them in the industry.


Have you had any female mentors that have helped you on your way?

I have and I’m going to answer this question strangely so bear with me. I’ve had incredible female mentors in my career. I started working for a female manager who was amazing, I’ve worked for a female CEO who taught me a lot and I believe that certainly helped me feel like I could be successful in this industry. However, I will tell you that some of the greatest mentors I’ve had from a female perspective have been members of my team. I’ve hired, and companies I’ve worked for have hired, great individuals to work on the marketing teams, to work on the education teams and the different teams that over my career I’ve overseen, and these women have been amazing teachers to me because they’ve helped me become a better manager and a better partner to them in our effort to be successful for the organization.

And they all have different challenges in their background – some are single mothers, some have health issues, some have personal things that occur, and they honestly are amazing in the fact that most of the women I’ve had on my teams over the years have been able to be extraordinarily professional and at the same time very good from a professional communications perspective – good with other people, good with their teams, good with the dental professionals they dealt with. I’ve had amazing men on my team as well, and I still do, I have a great team today, so they also inspired me, but if we’re talking specifically about the women, I have some amazing women on my team.


Has there been a strong mix of males and females in your team and company? Has it been weighted in one way or the other?

Yes. It’s a mix. We want more women to work in the dental space. There have been more women than men on my team. Not because I’m hiring women purposefully, but because of the type of work that I’ve been involved in the marketing, the education, the communications piece, the marketing strategy piece. For my roles in particular, I have seen more women, but I do have men on my teams as well. And the nice thing is that it’s not a big issue. It’s like it’s not even a thing. We all just work together as a team and that’s very important to me is to work in partnership and I think that women coming into the industry will see that – it’s not that we’ve got women in the industry and men in the industry, and they all work separate, they work together.

Truthfully the dental field can be difficult and understanding what dentists want how to best reach them and how to best serve them can be difficult. The groups work together beautifully they do, and I love this industry I’ll be honest with you. It’s been a real thrill to see some of the things that you work so hard on come to fruition.

“It’s also a complete misconception that you cannot have a family life and grow in your current role. In the current job I have, I was hired as a Product Manager and I’m now a Vice President of Customer Marketing six years later.”


How do you look to find a balance between work and life?

It’s a challenge. It’s something that you have to work at. Family life is extremely important. I think National Dentex has been a great organization to help individuals even at a high level find a good balance between family and work life. I mean, we work very hard, don’t get me wrong, but it’s very important as an individual and as a woman that you set boundaries for yourself.

So, for example, you leave work, you leave your office, you keep your phone on for a little bit but then you set it aside, you turn off the ringer and you spend time with your family for dinner. it’s very important that people have a very clear demarcation line between work and their personal life I’ve seen individuals who don’t do that, and they burn out very quickly. It’s also a complete misconception that you cannot have a family life and grow in your current role. In the current job I have, I was hired as a Product Manager and I’m now a Vice President of Customer Marketing six years later. Some people might think that’s crazy, like ‘How did that happen?’ I’ve worked hard every year that I’ve been at National Dentex as have all the other women and men who I work with, but it is very important to me that my family also get a part of me every day.

I believe that it has helped me to be resilient and be able to focus and have passion for my job because I have a good balance. I think women in dentistry in this industry can have that. I think that’s a benefit of this industry, many, if not all the women I have met in my career in dentistry, have very even lives. They have their work life and they have their personal life and I would say, especially for women who may be recently a mother or who feel the pressures of home, this is a very good industry to get into because you will find that there are more often than not companies that are willing to be patient in terms of, if you have maternity leave or you have left for what have you know, for any types of circumstances, they’re patient, they’re understanding and they accept the work-life balance.

There are other industries I’m not sure if that’s as prevalent. I have friends in all different kinds of industries, and I’ve heard of some of my colleagues working until  9:00 p.m. and they don’t get home to see their kids. I feel terrible for them because life is short and you know, we’re not on this planet forever. So, priorities and boundaries are very important, and you can do that and still be tremendously productive and successful.


What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Throughout my career, I’ve been involved in and collaborated with individuals on probably hundreds if not close to thousands of product service launches. And it is quite exhilarating to see those products and services in use. Years after if you either came up with the name or the marketing strategy or the pricing, it’s quite exciting to see that, so that is that’s the type of accomplishment that always gives me a little like you know boost of excitement.

But I will tell you, the biggest accomplishment that I gain excitement or happiness over is watching the people who have worked on my teams grow and evolve and take positions in other organizations at higher levels where I know I had a small piece of helping them evolve and grow or helping them grow within my organization. I think the biggest gift you can give anyone professionally, is to offer them a little bit of professional value that will help them be able to achieve greater salaries or achieve greater positions or be able to professionally expand their horizons. So that to me is the type of accomplishment that makes me feel really good.

There will always be another product launch, there will always be ways to drive additional revenue for your organization. As an example, when I started at National Dentex, one of the things that I was made responsible for was the business development for implant fabrication, group, and business. And I was able, with the partnership of our sales teams and great partnerships from the implant company representatives, to drive a great amount of value.

We grew many percentage points together and as collaborators, both companies on a lot of levels made quite a bit of revenue. That’s exciting. That’s like the traditional way of feeling accomplished.

But the longer you do this and the more you manage people and the more you meet people, you want to help them grow because it helps the company because they’re getting better and they’re offering value. But then it’s also helping them be more successful and you feel like a little piece of what you’ve offered to them from a mentoring coaching, professional perspective, follows them and as a part of their success. So, in essence, you’re contributing to numerous people throughout your career and really, that’s what people remember. They do remember that you helped grow revenue from 2% to 8% or what have you, but what they remember more is that you helped the company be successful because you helped individuals grow and achieve great things on their own which cumulatively, I think leads to the best and the most successful companies.

One thing I would like to say is that it’s in dentistry and the roles I’ve had with my managers, that my mentors gave me opportunities when I wasn’t necessarily, on paper, the perfect person for that. They didn’t know when they promoted me to a Director of Marketing for the entire company. Had I been a Director of Marketing at 15 companies before that? No, I’d been a director of Marketing Communications, which, as you know, is a different type of role.

‘Can she transition from a communications perspective to a strategic marketing perspective’, where you’re now really considering pricing and segmentation? And yet they had faith because this is an industry where you learn very quickly whether someone is going to be able to make it. And so, for women considering this industry, get your foot in the door and get into the organization.

There’s no doubt that if you’re talented and smart and you get along well with people and you understand dentistry to some degree, you will be considered for additional roles, even if you don’t have 15 years of dentistry under your belt, if you know how to be successful and learn and evolve and be flexible and nimble, which is very important in this industry. You’ll be successful.

For women considering this field or interested in becoming a member of the dental community and whatever aspect of the business they’re involved in, the wonderful thing about the dental industry is that it is very varied. You come in a certain role, and that’s the role that you are evaluated on obviously. But if you have additional talent ability skills, the chance to move into other areas is very prevalent and available to you.

I came into the industry as a marketing communications individual, and since then I have led education, I have led customer account management, I have led business development for implant restorations, I’ve been able to lead aspects of sales, and today I oversee marketing for two different divisions internationally, I oversee the marketing for National Dentex as well as West Coast Dental Labs, so it’s been a wonderful ride. It’s been incredibly exciting. And it allows you as a professional to grow because if you just do one thing for the rest of your career and you never try additional things, you’re limiting yourself professionally. So this industry allows you to become more versatile and to help you professionally grow by being involved in different aspects of marketing, different aspects of sales, different aspects of customer management, and customer experience,

And it’s all about the customer journey. If you know how to work with your dentist to make their journey and their patient’s journey better, you will be successful.


Have you been given any advice throughout your career that had a really big impact on you?

Yes, I think the best advice I’ve ever received in my career is don’t sweat the small stuff. As a person who deals predominantly today with problems all day long as a Vice President. I mean, essentially any Vice President I would think has the majority of their day involved in problem resolution, helping to find answers for things that are missing, mentoring and coaching their teams, and developing the strategy for how you proceed forward.

I would say that it’s very important to not sweat the small things. There will be problems. There will be challenges. Everything can be resolved with a clear head and a clear mind. And step by step resolution. If you’re able to think clearly and go through the day with an understanding that things are not going to be perfect every day, you will be successful. Some of the younger managers I’ve worked with, some of the younger specialists or coordinators, get very upset when something doesn’t go exactly as planned. I think predominantly because their manager probably makes them feel afraid that if they make a mistake, they’re gonna get fired or they’re gonna get in trouble. I think it’s important for women in dentistry to realize that mistakes will happen. You will stumble. It’s just the way life is. Don’t worry about it. Fix it as best as you can and try not to make the same mistake twice. That’s the best advice I’ve been given. Don’t sweat the small stuff and try not to make the same mistakes over and over again. Because then you’re just repeating the fallacy that got you to that point, to begin with.

If you can learn from your mistakes. If you can have a clear mind, not get super stressed out, and calmly work your way through whatever the situation that you’re encountering is, especially with dentists and dental professionals because they’ve got patients in the chair, and when something goes wrong they can get concerned, flustered, upset, understand that it’s not a personal attack on you it’s that they have the wellbeing of a patient of a person in their chair on their shoulders, it’s their responsibility, so they’re expecting you as a person involved in whatever dentistry you’re collaborating on, to have the answers or to help them resolve the issue – If you can do that, you will be successful.

One of the things they never tell you, if you grow organically – let’s say you were a Director at one job and then you’re hired in as the Vice President at another job if you organically grow into that role, and I’ve talked to other women who say the same thing, no one tells you that the majority of your day is going to be dealing with problems, issues, crisis resolution, customer resolution, internal team member resolution, strategy resolution, all day long. So literally there are days where, and this is not unique to me, I come in in the morning and I have what my day is supposed to be, and it doesn’t turn out that way, because there are situations that require leadership and decision making and problem resolution and listening. That’s a big one – listening.

Is there any advice you give specifically to young women looking to get into the industry?

Yes, just realize that your career is not going to be a straight line. I think that we believe when we start in the business that we’re gonna start here and then we’re gonna be promoted here, and they are going to be promoted here, and it’s not like that at all. Careers are very winding, and you may find yourself doing something that you didn’t anticipate that you’d be doing.

And you may find that at times your position might be eliminated which is unfortunate, other times you might find that you’re getting promoted into something that you’re not quite sure you are 100% qualified for but you’re going to go for it, and you should. Your career will be a winding path, it will not be a straight line, and that’s okay. That is really how these things go. We were led to believe that everything is very structured – ‘you start here, you move here’ but in reality, it just doesn’t work that way. You find that your career will surprise you, your career will excite you, and your career will take you places that you never thought when you left university that you would go.

I remember at one point I was in the Dominican Republic sitting with a lady in a dark room in the middle of a hurricane thinking, ‘Wow. I never thought I would be here when I was in school learning about Business Communications.’ And the same thing with dentistry. I mean, I never thought I would get the opportunity to travel to France and get to see places in Paris as a Marketing Manager for a dental implant company. But you do. You get the opportunity to travel the world, especially if you work for multi-country multinational organizations and there are a lot of them in this industry. So just know that no matter where your career is taking you, it’s okay, as long as you’re persistent, and as long as you don’t give up and you push forward, you will achieve great things. It’s just staying on the path and not being afraid to try something new, not being afraid to do different things.


“Your career will be a winding path, it will not be a straight line, and that’s okay. That is really how these things go. We were led to believe that everything is very structured – ‘you start here, you move here’ but in reality, it just doesn’t work that way.”

I think you’re a great example of that as well. It looks like you took almost a little bit of a risk and a chance to decide to do what you wanted to do in your career – taking that strategic approach and moving into product management as well. Do you agree that different paths can take you on different ventures depending on what you’re looking at?

Yes, I think that as professionals we believe that ‘we’re only good at this’ and that ‘we should focus on this’ whatever this is and, you should take chances and you should try different things. I had no idea how much I would love business development, product management, the sales and pricing aspects of things, the customer experience, and the customer journey. Because initially, all I did was the communications piece. I was responsible for the brochures, the PR the social media, the digital marketing, the e-commerce, I built an entire e-commerce platform at Biomet 3i when I worked there.

You kind of set yourself up for, ‘Well this is really what I’m good at and this is what I should keep doing’, then when you take a chance, and try something else, it could be different. My passions are basic marketing, the strategy and I love business development, I love customer relationship management, and you learn that by trying different things.

I made this mistake for a long time in my career thinking that the only thing that I could be involved in was the marketing communications piece. And finally, I said, ‘I want to do something more. I know I have more in me to be successful here.’ So, I did. I took a step back and tried product management for the first time and then learned from that point on that, ‘Wow, this is something that I think is just excellent. This is so exciting to be responsible for an entire product or an entire service and to drive it from conception to go to market and then beyond that, to track it and see how it does and to continue to cultivate this.’ That was just a huge thrill, and, in hindsight, something I think I’m better at than communications because I’m more passionate about it and I have more interest in strategy in the future of the company.

So, this is a mistake that I think a lot of people make. ‘I’m only good at Product Marketing, I can’t do anything else.’ Or I’m only good at communications and I can’t do anything else. In dentistry, it’s so versatile that you will have the opportunity to try other things. You will have opportunities to do other things and grow in other directions. And that’s the most exciting part of it for me.



For more inspiring stories, check out our Women Revolutionizing series. Or, learn more about our dedicated dental team and dental jobs.