Should I be asking my dental patients for their pronouns?

Pronouns LGBTQ+Tiffany Mosqueda discusses the importance of personal pronouns within the dental setting. 

Hello, my name is Tiffany Mosqueda, I am a dental hygienist, and I use she/her/hers pronouns. An individual’s pronouns describe how they want to be identified.  They may go by she/her/hers, he/him/his, they/them/theirs, Xe/Xem/Xyrs, some combination of these, and so on.

It is important for all healthcare professionals, including dental professionals, to be familiar with the use of personal pronouns and how they can impact patient care.

One’s personal pronouns help us describe each other in the way we identify, whether we are the healthcare professional or the patient.  Some folks have the privilege of physically appearing one’s identified gender in addition to using the pronouns that people typically associate with that apparent gender.

Varying gender expressions

However, this is not always the case. One’s physically apparent gender may or may not be the associated sex they were assigned to at birth.

For example, an individual whose sex assigned at birth is male may now use she/her/hers pronouns or she/they pronouns. People may identify within the traditionally known gender binary (cis- or transgender). Or they may identify as gender non-binary or non-conforming.

Individuals may also have different or varying gender expressions from their identified gender and pronouns. For example, the same person who uses she/her/hers pronouns may have a more stereotypically-viewed masculine gender expression. This could be wearing dress shirts and ties instead of dresses.

Minimising harm

This is why it is important to ask for one’s pronouns and gender identity instead of assuming their gender. If an individual is addressed by the wrong pronouns, they can experience gender dysphoria. This can contribute to significant psychological distress. In your work setting, this person may no longer feel welcome, acknowledged, or understood.

One may wonder why this is so important in patient care, but it is in fact very important. In dentistry, it is vital to create a patient-centred environment where the patient feels safe and allows you to examine inside their mouth.

However, if the patient does not feel accepted by the dental office, they may choose to withhold their dental concerns. Or they may choose to not return to the office completely.

To prevent this, dental offices can ask their patients on their medical update forms for their pronouns. Patients should be given the option to change them at any given time.

This will then inform the provider and staff of what pronouns to use when addressing their patients. As a result, it will minimise any potential gender dysphoria.

Normalise the use

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states: ‘An opportunity for transgender people to share information about their [gender identity] in a welcoming and patient-centred environment opens the door to a more trusting patient-provider relationship.’

It is also important for dental providers and staff to share their own pronouns to their patients to normalise the practice of sharing pronouns. It is recommended to hold regular office trainings regarding the appropriate use of personal pronouns in the clinical setting.

I work in a paediatric dental office. I see patients between the ages of 18 months and 25 years of age. A study by Cedars-Sinai showed that transgender individuals first experience gender dysphoria by age seven.

When I learned of this, I realised that I want to be a part of my patients’ journeys in discovering their gender identity by supporting and affirming them the best way I can.

Safe space

This is when I began wearing my own pronouns, she/her/hers, on a pin that is attached to my identification tag. Outside the dental office, in my own effort to normalise the use of pronouns, I also state my personal pronouns on my social media.

I am not a member of the transgender community and my pronouns match my sex assigned at birth. By having my pronouns visible on me or publicised on my social media, it can show that I am an ally to the LGBTQ community.

By identifying myself as an ally, I want my patients to know that if they are experiencing gender dysphoria or are learning about their gender identity, that I am here to provide a safe space, and to listen as their hygienist and as a friend.

Many medical fields have already begun asking for their patients’ gender identities and pronouns. It is imperative that the dental field follows suit. By asking for your patient’s gender identity, you are not only showing that you are an ally to the LGBTQ community, but you are showing that you accept all patients for who they are.

There is never an inappropriate time to state your pronouns or ask for your patient’s pronouns. Even if your patient is not a part of the LGBTQ community, and uses the pronouns associated with the sex and gender they were assigned to at birth, they will know that their friends and loved ones who are in the LGBTQ community will be accepted by your office.

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