To mark the end of what's been a highly unusual Pride month, we'd like to say (and hear) a little more about dental health and dental care for our LGBTQ patients.
You might ask: why should it matter to my dental team, or for my dental health, if I'm LGBTQ?
We're asking: what can we learn more about and how can we help?
Below are some possible answers to both questions.
Getting what you need: breaking down barriers to dental careThough we know there's lots of reasons many different people struggle with getting the right dental care, evidence suggests there are challenges specific to the LGBTQ community that prevent access to dental health and treatment.
Reasons why many LGBTQ patients experience issues around dental care:
Many patients report anxiety around dental treatment - they may need time to build trust with their dentist, dental therapist or hygienist before disclosing information that may be relevant to their healthcare and treatment - for LGBTQ patients in particular, this links to fear of negative reactions or discrimination.
Many LGBTQ patients may be unaware of the ways in which their orientation or gender identity may be relevant to dental health. For example, studies have shown that the increase in sexually transmitted infections (STIs) amongst men who have sex with men (MSM) could be due in part to HIV reduction strategies like having oral sex – this could mean a higher risk of mouth and throat cancer. Hormone treatments used by some transgender patients while in transition can have effects on gum health. Both of these problems can be prevented or managed with simple measures, following discussion with your dentist.
There's also evidence to suggest that LGBTQ people can face increased stress in their lives due to discrimination or other concerns, and these can contribute to eating disorders, which can also harm dental health, causing increased damage and wear to teeth.
Research also indicates higher rates of smoking in LGBTQ patients, relative to the general population, which increases the risks of mouth and throat cancers.
Dentists and dental teams currently don't receive comprehensive training on treating LGBTQ patients - while there's information available for professionals, it's not usually delivered as a part of our core training.
Talk to us in confidenceWe know that disclosing your orientation, as well as any aspect of your health and medical history can be tough. But, we take confidentiality seriously - you can tell us anything about yourself that might be relevant to your care, in writing, by phone or face-to-face. Whatever you choose to tell us will be treated in the strictest confidence and only shared with those who need to be involved in your custom treatment plan.
However, asking open-ended questions and active listening is a part of our training. It's a skill that takes a lifetime to perfect, but can be put into practice every day. Your dentist, therapist or hygienist might start with a very simple: 'what can I call you?' If you have a preferred name or pronoun, tell us!
If you're worried about your dental health in any way, ask your dentist. Remember: your mouth doesn't work in isolation. Mental and physical well-being can affect your teeth, gums and mouth like any other part of your body.
If you're talking to a member of our reception team and you'd like to discuss something in private, let us know - we have safe, quiet spaces in our beautiful building that don't have to mean sitting in a dental chair to talk.
At Plumfield Dental Practice, we're looking at ways to do what we do better, for everyone. We're always learning: if there's something you think we should know, or could improve, please let us know. You can use our contact form, drop us an email, reach out on socials, call us or talk face-to-face.
It's not just teeth...Your mouth doesn't work in isolation. Mental and physical well-being can affect your teeth, gums and mouth like any other part of your body.
In the meantime, here's some basic tips on maintaining your dental health:
- Brush your teeth and gums thoroughly with fluoride toothpaste twice a day, every day – massage your gums gently, even if they bleed.
- Eat fewer sugary foods and smoke less - even a reduction can be helpful, if you're not ready to quit.
- Practice safer oral sex – know your own and your sexual partner's STI status. Use condoms or dental dams (dams might be more difficult to get right now. We and many other practices are using them more often than normal during some treatments to limit transmission of Coronavirus - if so, a latex or vinyl glove can be converted). Be mindful of latex allergy and always use powder free gloves and dams.
- Mental health matters: if you're struggling, let your dental team know - they can help with strategies to make sure your mouth doesn't suffer too.
- Have regular dental check-ups - ask questions!