As a dentist of 33 years and an African American female, I have been a double minority in my field since I graduated from dental school. There have been many occasions when I found myself at the intersectionality of my race or gender and my chosen profession. Though they may seem unrelated, dentistry, as a field of medicine, offers valuable lessons about curbing unconscious biases like racism and sexism. Understanding we are all biased and bias impacts our behavior. We start, not with judgment, but rather with understanding and respecting cultural differences. Just as every patient's dental needs are unique, so too are the cultural backgrounds and experiences of each individual.
Though they may seem unrelated, dentistry, as a field of medicine, offers valuable lessons about curbing unconscious biases like racism and sexism.
In dentistry, practitioners must take into account a patient's preferences when developing treatment plans. For example, some cultures may have strong beliefs about certain types of treatments or materials, and oral healthcare providers respect and accommodate these beliefs as much as possible while maintaining the legal standard of care. Similarly, in addressing our attitude toward people who are different racially or ethnically, it is crucial to respect the inherent value in each person's humanity and seek commonalities.
Another important lesson that dentistry teaches us about curbing racism is the importance of empathy and active listening. In a dental setting, a patient may be in pain or anxious, and it is the dentist's responsibility to not only provide treatment but also to listen actively and not leapfrog to a diagnosis without fully understanding the problem. Similarly, in addressing racism, we should actively listen to and empathize with the experiences of each individual and not resort to lumping everyone into negative stereotypes because of things we've been told by others.
Another important lesson that dentistry teaches us about curbing racism is the importance of empathy and active listening
Dentists attend 20 years of school before obtaining a license. Once we graduate, we are required to take continuing education every year for as long as we practice. Ongoing education and self-reflection are also necessary when addressing racism, sexism, ageism, xenophobia or any bias. We as individuals should also engage in ongoing education and self-reflection in order to address and combat racism. And this education should not start in our 20s or 30s but at an early age so that children recognize when they are being victimized. Then, they will have the words and strategies to combat this contagious social cancer that is so easily passed from generation to generation like a toxic heirloom.
In conclusion, dentistry teaches us valuable lessons about curbing racism, including the importance of understanding and respecting cultural differences, connecting through empathy and active listening, and the benefits of ongoing education. By applying these lessons, we can work towards creating a more inclusive and equitable society for all.
Dr. mOe is a bestselling author, award-winning podcast host, speaker coach, and dynamic motivational speaker. She has been featured in numerous media outlets, including Parade Magazine, Fox News, and ABC’s Good Morning Texas.