Every person deserves to have a quality dental care experience. However, many studies have shown that often Black communities and other racial minorities have much higher rates of tooth decay and fewer dental visits than white communities. While parts of this trend have to do with economical and cultural background, there is also a long history of bias within many medical traditions that is reinforced during medical school. Most healthcare providers, including dentists, are unaware of these biases, and this leads to generations of Black people feeling discomfort and even distrust toward their healthcare providers. One of the biggest things that helps Black patients feel comfortable is to be served by a Black dentist. Meanwhile, white dentists must strive to understand that everyone who visits their office comes with a unique background and set of experiences that can impact how they respond to treatment. Fortunately, there are many things that dentists of any race can do to make sure that Black patients feel welcome in their office during their appointments.
The first step to overcoming learned bias is to acknowledge that it exists. Many white people are not aware of implicit biases or learned behaviors they may have, such as judgments about someone based on their skin tone, hair style, voice, or clothes. It’s important for white dentists to first be aware of cues that could cause them to condescend towards, disregard, or make assumptions about their patients.
Encourage Dental Visits from a Young Age
Regular dental visits should begin as soon as a child gets their first tooth or reaches their first birthday. However, kids can begin seeing the dentist at any time. Regular pediatric dental care services help people to develop positive experiences with going to the dentist that makes them feel more comfortable even as they get older. Dentists that work with kids also tend to have a knack for making families feel welcome that begins by setting up a comfortable environment for everyone.
Expand Reach within the Community
Dentists should also be aware of how and where they market their services. Community outreach is a great way to let patients of all ethnicities know about the importance of pediatric dental care. Alternatively, many dentists do things such as attend special events in their communities such as health fairs where can speak to future new patients directly. Black dentists should be supported as much as if not more in this endeavor; many attempts at supporting black communities focuses on white and interracial support, occasionally leading to ignoring Black care providers and groups.
Provide Quality Patient Education
Finally, everyone feels more welcome when they are treated as an active participant in their care. It is important for all dentists to talk to their patients about the things that are included in their treatment plan. Pediatric dentists should talk to the children in their care on an age-appropriate level and follow it up by speaking with the parents. Developing informed patients makes it more likely that patients will feel comfortable enough to come back for their next appointment.
The field of dentistry is meant to provide care to people from all different walks of life. Dentists should be sensitive to their patient’s backgrounds that may include different cultures and ethnicities that affect how they feel in the office. Making Black people feel more welcome during their dental checkups and treatments isn’t complicated when dentists take a people first approach that feels right for everyone.