How has dentistry changed for LGBTQ+ professionals?

How has dentistry changed for LGBTQ+ professionals?

As Pride Month draws to a close, Anna Peterson reflects on how the dental profession has become more inclusive for LGBTQ+ professionals and what still needs to change.

A few years ago I touched on my experiences as a gay woman in dentistry. I spoke about what the support was like for the LGBTQ+ community at dental school, on how inclusive the profession was, if I had ever experienced any negativity from patients or colleagues and what I felt could be done to elevate diversity and inclusivity in dentistry. Since writing my first article I feel the profession has increased the awareness and education of LGBTQ+ issues, but I do feel more is needed.

I was very fortunate that when I first qualified I didn’t receive any negativity regarding my sexuality at work. However I was very cautious about who I would tell. I didn’t feel comfortable talking to everyone about it with the fear of being judged or discriminated against. 

It shouldn’t be something that you have to immediately tell people about, but the assumption that you are heterosexual is usually there. Heterosexual people don’t ever have to have the conversation with colleagues because most people just assume that is what you are unless you tell them otherwise. 

Is the profession becoming more inclusive?

I strongly believe that dentistry is becoming more inclusive for the LGBTQ+ community. One improvement is better education around the LGBTQ+ community by incorporating LGBTQ+ health issues into the curriculum in dental schools. I have seen more lectures at conferences on the topic with the hope to improve the education we deliver to our patients and to improve the safety of the LGBTQ+ community.

Even simply by publishing articles like this one, we are educating more people and showing other members of the LGBTQ+ community that may come across them that they are not alone. I wish I had seen more articles published like this when I first started. For that, I am so pleased that has year after year celebrated pride month and given members of the LGBTQ+ community a voice. 

Sometimes writing these articles I feel a little exposed as it is quite a personal topic. But I know that the younger Anna who first went to university 10 years ago would be appreciative to the person who wrote an article on this topic and exposed themself to help others feel safe in the profession. 

What still needs to change?

I still experience times where I can see that the education around LGBTQ+ issues is lacking. A few years ago I started working with a new member of staff. After working with them for a few weeks they spoke to me about unfortunately not having any luck with dating. They said: ‘Maybe it would be easier if I just dated women.’ I laughed at this comment, they then went to say: ‘But unfortunately I can’t because I am normal.’ I know they didn’t mean this to be offensive, but as a gay woman all I hear is that I am not ‘normal’. 

I do feel more training is needed. Especially in-house training or more online webinars where people can access the training regularly and ask questions. 

In particular, we need more support for our trans and non-binary community. One way to address this in practice is to add a pronouns box to medical and new patient enquiry forms. This shows that your practice is inclusive, and that you are aware of more than just she/her and he/him pronouns. If I saw options for female/male/non-binary on a form I would feel that the practice requiring the form had more of an understanding. It would increase how safe I felt in that practice.

We must never assume patients’ gender and it is so important that we respect pronouns. If you accidentally say the wrong pronouns, apologise and correct yourself. I have many friends who are non-binary and sometimes I still make a mistake. The more we educate ourselves and increase awareness, the fewer mistakes we will make. 

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