The LGBTQIA+ community still faces inequality in healthcare
Here’s how it affects their oral care
In 2021, the Centers For Disease Control reported “profound” oral health disparities among minorities in the US. Though the issue has barely been studied in relation to the LGBTQIA+ community, a 2018 article in The Journal of the American Dental Association titled, “Should Dental Make A Transition?” shed some light on queer experiences in the dental chair. The article questioned whether dentists adequately meet the concerns of transgender patients when performing procedures that impact the masculine or feminine aesthetic of their smile, teeth size, and facial profile. It got us wondering: In what other ways do inequalities in healthcare for LGBTQIA+ people impact their oral care?
LGBTQIA+ people may visit the dentist less than average
One survey found that transgender people experience dental fear in connection with fear of discrimination and maltreatment, and although research is lacking, this may also be the case for lesbian, gay or bisexual individuals. Additional research revealed that only 10% of transgender people in Cleveland report visiting the dentist regularly, furthering the notion that perceived discrimination might be to blame for why LGBTQIA+ people make fewer trips to the dentist. This likely comes from a history of discrimination based on personal identity and the HIV stigma that strained the relationship between queer people and the medical field for years.
In a 2022 study, medical professionals working in 1980s NYC revealed that the stigmatization of Black and Brown gay men, rooted in homophobia, made it so patients were feared, isolated, and abandoned by many doctors, resulting in the loss of over 100,000 American lives in one decade. In the years that followed, the passionate public response to this health crisis did help to challenge stereotypes and advocate for the civil rights of LGBTQIA+ people. Still, repairing the loss of trust between the queer community and the medical field (including dental providers) will take time.
Finding quality care often requires community support
While most providers work hard to be inclusive, sensitivity literature and resources for professionals are lacking as a whole. According to the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, “increasing the knowledge and demystifying sexual minority issues can enhance the confidence and attitudes of healthcare workers when treating LGBTQIA+ individuals.” However, the Commission on Dental Accreditation doesn’t currently require diversity training specific to treating queer or transgender populations. In 2022, The Journal of Dental Education suggested that dental schools have made some progress by increasing their engagement with on and off-campus LGBTQIA+ advocacy groups and creating mentorship programs.
As dental schools and institutions increase their capacity to support queer and transgender folk, additional support is found amongst advocates, activists, and local clinics that connect these populations with life-affirming oral care providers and education. The Movement Advancement Project, an independent think tank, reported that nearly 52,000 people visited an LGBTQIA+ center every week in 2022. This number shows that not only are people finding alternative care beyond professional treatments, they rely on it. Community clinics and centers are setting the precedent for what LGBTQIA+ friendly dental care should be — inclusive, yes — not only of all identities and orientations, but of queer medical history and the potential fears that may arise.
Today, the fight for individual rights & representation
In terms of queer people’s access to professional healthcare in the US, 2023 has seen a sharp rise in proposed legislation that restricts or alters access to gender-affirming care — 15% of which has passed. Although these bills don’t specifically target oral health treatments, they still work to create more hurdles for the community to get through. Conditions haven’t been ideal, but even so, we’re happy to be in great company alongside millions of supporters of the global queer community. We’ll continue to advocate for all mouths beyond Pride Month, so the oral health of LGBTQIA+ people is made more urgent to dental school curriculums, policy makers, and the public at large. Spreading the word also helps take some of the pressure off of queer people, who have advocated for their civil rights for decades now.
As more allies use their power and platforms to defend LGBTQIA+ rights, we turn to the history of queer healthcare (and specifically transgender healthcare) for a reminder of how important an outspoken community really is — not just in the fight for inclusive oral care, but equality in general. Now that we’ve seen how far the queer community has come by speaking their truth, let’s make a habit out of elevating as many proud mouths as possible.
*Editor’s note: This article was previously published on getquip.com/blog and has been updated as of June 2023.