Dr. Maurice Miles (Courtesy photo)
Dr. Maurice Miles is a singularity in his chosen field of dentistry but that hasn’t stopped him from seeking to make change.
“When friends and colleagues say I’m breaking all the rules, I say only because no one else has tried,” he told the AFRO.
A native of Jamaica, Miles is one of the few Black faces in dentistry, particularly in the higher echelons of the field.
“Yes, I am a rarity. I don’t know why. the further up we go there’s less color,” said the partner in Laurel Lakes Cosmetic Dentistry in Laurel, Md.
According to a report by the American Dental Education Association, in 2006, only 3.4 percent of 180,000 professionally active dentists in the United States were Black. And, only 4.1 percent of the 2013 graduating school of dentists were Black, according to a more recent ADEA survey. In fact, at a recent conference of dentists, where he was a featured speaker, Miles said he was one of three Black dentists in an audience of 300-400.
“I’m pretty much a standout wherever I go, but it doesn’t bother me because I always assume when I enter a room people are going to judge me on my words and actions and not the color of my skin,” he said.
That confidence has stood the Maryland dentist well as he has progressed in his field. Miles recently concluded his term as president of the Maryland State Board of Dental Examiners. And, during his tenure on the board – the regulatory entity for dental practitioners and practices in the state – he tackled thorny issues and made much-needed improvements.
Miles was appointed to the board in 2008 by Gov. Martin O’Malley to fill a vacancy after the governor restructured the entire board.
“There was a big uproar in Maryland because a lot of African-American dentists said they were being investigated and sanctioned more than other dentists. And, it was so bad that the governor’s office stepped in,” Miles recalled. An audit by the state of Maryland showed that from 2002 to 2006 Black dentists were sanctioned at a rate 1.9 times higher than their White counterparts.
When he was initially asked, the Howard University Dental School graduate said, he was leery of accepting the position.
“It’s kind of like being Internal Affairs for police…no one wants that,” he said. But, Miles soon realized, “Hey, I have the ability to make changes and changes that matter. , I turned out to be one of the more aggressive board presidents.”
When he joined the board, Miles said he realized there were a lot of issues to be addressed such as streamlining the board itself, improving access to care for the young and for low-income people and also the need for quality care standards.
“I realized that Maryland was one of a few states that did not have a standard of care for dental practices,” he said.
Predecessors had expressed their inability to change the status quo because of a fear of facing down special interests, Miles said. But he was not intimidated and spearheaded a legislative effort that resulted in the state’s first standard of care in 2013. It was the first of several regulatory initiatives undertaken under his leadership including instituting a standard exam and changing the disciplinary process so that more dentists were treated fairly.
“You can’t live in a state and say we don’t have a standard of care and be satisfied with that situation,” Miles said, adding, “The community loved it because it offered them protection, but I’m sure there are dentists out there who think I’m a sellout.”
Others, however, were inspired by his leadership.
“It has been an honor working with Dr. Maurice Miles. He is principled, fair, innovative and unafraid to take on difficult issues when the need arises,” said Dr. James P. Goldsmith, a MSBDE member.
Miles’ successor, Dr. Ron Moser, who is Jewish, said he learned a lot about leadership after serving as Miles’ vice president. “He has a limitless energy and drive to get a lot done in a short period of time. His motto should be, ‘The difficult will be done immediately; the impossible will take a little longer.’ This will be a tough act to follow,” Moser said.
In addition to membership on the MSBDE, Miles also serves on several other boards, most notably, the American Board of Dental Examiners (ADEX) and the Commission on Dental Competency Assessments, which administers dental examinations. And, during his tenure there, Miles again made his mark.
“A favorite son of Jamaica, Maurice’s vision and dedication negotiated with Jamaican government and universities to establish a standardized dental licensure examination through CDCA. Now, Jamaican dentists will take the same standardized licensing examination that more than 40 states in United States accept as their standard,” said Dr. Arthur Jee, a friend and colleague.
Jamaica is now the only jurisdiction outside of the U.S. to be a part of ADEX, and Miles said Trinidad and Tobago is currently on tap to join by next year.
“I had to look out for my peeps,” said Miles with a laugh of his pioneering achievement. “I realized the best way to help is to ensure they had the same standards as we do. If I tell an average Jamaican that the training dentists on the island receive is the same as foreign dentists, why would they want to jump on a plane?”
Miles’ accomplishments in the field are unique not only because of his race, but also because of his age – 46 – when most of his colleagues are 60 and above. Miles is stepping down from the MSBDE because members are limited to two-consecutive four-year terms. But his differences have never been an impediment to him, Miles said.
“I think I was able to do all the things I did because I didn’t have any misconceptions and assumptions about who I am—I didn’t feel I had a disadvantage because of where I was from, how old I was or the color of my skin. And because I acted with such confidence, eventually people listened.
“When you walk into a situation with less baggage, he added, “you get more stuff done.”