Healthcare utilization is lower among the LGBTQ+ community, but there are simple steps dental practices can take to make their practices welcoming for all patients, according to diversity and inclusion advocates Drs. Marita Inglehart and Scott Schwartz.
Inglehart, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, and Schwartz, an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati's Children's Hospital Medical Center, conduct research on and lecture about health disparities within the LGBTQ+ community. They shared small changes that dental practices can make that in turn make a world of a difference for LGBTQ+ patients.
"When we talk about making your practice more LGBT friendly, it's about giving patients reassurance that there should be no anticipated discrimination here and that you will receive care that is equitable to others simply because you are a person who has walked through our doors with no other pretense," Schwartz said.
Research has shown that members of the LGBTQ+ community are less likely to visit the dentist regularly than their peers. Some patients have previously experienced discrimination or harsh language at the dental office, and others may put off healthcare visits due to the fear of discrimination or harsh language, noted Inglehart and Schwartz.
Dentists learn about special considerations and accommodations for a variety of communities, but often not for LGBTQ+ patients. According to a survey conducted in 2016 of dental school and dental hygiene program administrators, 29% of dental schools and 48% of hygiene programs in the U.S. did not cover LGBTQ+ content.
There are steps that practices and professionals can take to better care for and address patients' needs. So how can you put those steps into practice?
Below are five simple ways you can make your practice more LGBTQ+ friendly, according to Inglehart and Schwartz.
1. Update your intake form.
One way to signal that your practice is welcoming is to update your registration form to ask for additional information, such as one's legal name and preferred name, preferred pronouns, gender identity, and legal sex. Inglehart recommends the client registration form by Fenway Health, which includes a disclaimer that a person's legal name and legal sex are only used for insurance billing purposes.
Your intake form can also include risk factors that are seen more commonly among the LGBTQ+ community, which can help you and your team to be more attuned to potential findings you might have otherwise missed. Data reveals that those who identify as LGBTQ+ are more likely to use illicit substances, tobacco, and alcohol compared to their cisgender counterparts. They are also more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression -- all of which are risk factors that impact oral health.
2. Include pronouns on your badges.
Another simple way to signal that your practice is welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community is to include your preferred pronouns on your badge or in other places where your name appears.
"When you have your pronouns on your badge, patients are aware that you care about those issues," Inglehart said. "Communicating very clearly from the start that this is important to you is a great start."
3. Update your website.
Your website is one great place to communicate that you are accepting of diverse patients and families. You can include LGTBQ+ insignias and advertise yourself as being an accepting practice.
However, if displaying a Pride flag isn't quite right for your practice, you can include a nondiscrimination statement. This statement signals to patients that your practice accepts and welcomes all types of individuals, according to Inglehart and Schwartz.
4. Train your staff.
You may have sought out training and education about how to make your practice welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community, but if your staff does not know how to respond affirmatively to clients, patients will not feel welcomed. Inglehart and Schwartz recommended having conversations with your staff on changes you're making to your office, how to make LGBTQ+ patients feel welcome, and how to properly use preferred pronouns.
Further, seek out continuing education credits for you and your staff to broaden your knowledge and understanding of LGBTQ+ issues. In learning about these issues, you can better establish positive relationships with patients.
5. Have a gender-neutral bathroom.
A 2017 survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that nearly 2% of youth identified as transgender, and research conducted by Inglehart and Schwartz reported that nearly 80% of dental practices have at least one transgender patient. Ensuring that your office has a gender-neutral bathroom for patient use can signal to patients and their families that your practice cares about diversity.