Race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, age, and geographic location all have undeniable impacts on oral health and dentistry. We see this reflected in the oral health disparities that exist among ethnic groups and the LGBTQ+ community, and by the under-representation of female, minority, and LGBTQ+ providers in the field itself.
Though there are signs that diversity in dentistry is trending in the right direction, there is still significant room for improvement. For example, despite the fact that the number of female dentists in the US doubled over the past twenty years, the overall percentage of female dentists still only sits at approximately 33.4%. Meanwhile, Black Americans make up less than 4% of dental hygienists and only 4.3% of dentists.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community in the dental field, there is still a lot that is unknown. There are very few studies or reports regarding the number of LGBTQ+ professionals practicing dentistry (or entering dental school), so it is difficult to diagnose the true gravity of this problem. However, when it comes to seeking dental treatment there are studies to show a discrepancy for this community, such as this 2018 publication that shows that bisexual individuals were more likely to confront barriers to accessing dental care (30%) versus heterosexual adults (19%). Last year, we wrote a blog post discussing this inequality and in it we mentioned that “with more discussion and visibility, we can bring more equity to oral health.”
We all have mouths, and everyone should have equal access to quality oral healthcare, and be empowered to pursue a professional dental career. As quip continues to strive towards our mission — perfect oral health for every mouth — we must bring visibility to these deeply rooted issues to help influence policymakers, and dental school recruiting and curriculums to help drive long-term change. We wanted to take this opportunity to showcase some fantastic organizations that we thought you should know about who are working tirelessly to increase education, visibility, and resources to make the dental industry more inclusive.
The National Dental Association’s mission is to promote oral health equity among people of color by harnessing the collective power of its members, advocating for the needs of and mentoring dental students of color, and raising the profile of the profession in our communities. Their goals are to Improve the delivery of oral health care in underserved communities; and improve the educational opportunities of minorities underrepresented in the oral health field. Learn more about the NDA here.
Outcare’s purpose is to provide extensive information and education on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) healthcare. OutCare recognizes the unique health needs of LGBTQ individuals and connects them with the most appropriate healthcare providers, resources, and events. Likewise, OutCare strives to better educate medical students, supplement healthcare providers, and energize communities to deliver high-quality, culturally competent, unbiased healthcare. Learn more about OutCare here.
Browngirl, RDH is a wonderful non-profit founded by Martelle Coke, RDH whose mission is to shift the mindset about those who can be employed in the dental hygiene field, remove cultural and economic barriers to joining the dental hygiene workforce, and establish and promote pathways to dental hygiene careers. A recent study showed that minorities are represented in the field of Dental Hygiene at less than 4%, and BrownGirl, RDH was founded to help remedy this by offering scholarships and supplemental support to dental hygiene students, covering costs outside of tuition (including clinical supplies, equipment, loupes, national and clinical board fees). To learn more about Browngirl RDH, help contribute to their $20,000 goal, or apply to one of their scholarships, visit their website.
Unspoken Smiles’ mission is to promote both long-term oral health and economic security in the world's most disadvantaged regions through its focus on long-lasting project-missions that not only benefit women and children, but their communities too. To advance the goal of diversifying dentistry, we have created a fellowship pipeline to position young minority women in vital roles in oral disease prevention in their communities. Please visit www.unspokensmiles.org/fellowship for more information and learn how you can support our bold vision to get oral care for everyone, every day, and everywhere. Visit Unspoken Smiles to learn more about the great work they’re doing.
Increasing Diversity in Dentistry (or IDID) The Institute of Medicine recommends increasing the number of minority health professionals as a key strategy to eliminate health disparities. This is why IDID offers scholarships to minority providers to help them receive assistance throughout dental school and commit to practicing dentistry in an underserved community for a period of no less than two years upon completion of dental school. To learn more about IDID, visit their website.
As members of the dental community, we encourage you to reach out to any of the aforementioned organizations to learn more and express your support. Likewise, please let us know of any other organizations you think we would showcase in future newsletters.