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Dental anxiety is a common phenomenon amongst many people in the UK, but there is also evidence out there to suggest that people who identify as lesbian, gay, bi or trans (LGBT) face some unique fears and challenges when accessing healthcare services.
So, there are some important things that dentists can do to ensure their practices are inclusive and help to encourage these patients through their doors, without fear of discrimination or judgement.
That's why I was pleased to speak to Andrew at the LGBT Foundation about what support is out there for dental practices to ensure LGBT patients can feel supported, and they have some great advice to enable you to do this, which we published in the October edition of BDJ in Practice - and we've made the article freely available online, as we hope it will be a useful resource.
Why does a dentist need to know about a patient's sexual orientation or gender identity?
Many patients may need some time to build trust with their dentist before they decide to disclose information that may be relevant to their healthcare and treatment, and in fact, patients may not realise why this information would be important.
It is vital though, as we know oral health can be affected by a wide range of factors about how patients live their lives and it's important that dentists have a full understanding of this. LGBT people, for example, tend to have a much higher rate of smoking than the general population, leading to increased risk of gum disease and oral cancer.
Several 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 which include having oral sex – this could mean a higher risk of oral cancer.
HPV vaccination is an issue the BDA has strongly campaigned on, ensuring vaccinations are gender-neutral and that all 12-13-year-old children are now offered the jab at school, no matter their gender.
There's also evidence to suggest that LGBT people can face increased stress in their lives due to discrimination or other challenges, and these can contribute to eating disorders, which can also impact negatively on oral health. Again, there is a lack of understanding about this issue for LGBT people, and the right support and information is not always given.
Dentists currently don't receive comprehensive training on treating LGBT patients as a matter of routine, so it's an important issue for individual practices to consider – would your team benefit from receiving some training? In Greater Manchester, one dentist has talked about why his team went to Pride in Practice to help raise awareness of the issues.
It could help to start the conversation and dispel many of the myths, stereotypes and misinformation out there about LGBT community, and help your staff to feel more confident and informed about meeting the needs of all of your patients.
How can you support dentists who are LGBT?
It is also an important issue for the BDA that any dentists or team members identifying as LGBT feel supported and included and are able to get on and do their job without discrimination or facing any barriers or challenges, just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
A recent Stonewall report into the experience of LGBT people in the workplace found that one in five had been the target of negative comments or conduct from colleagues because they're LGBT.
We also provide some advice for BDA members on Equality and diversity in the workplace and Bullying, harassment and violence at work – to ensure you know what your responsibilities are at work.
The profession is transforming and so the BDA is always looking at what we can do to help support all of our members to have fulfilling and positive careers without fear of discrimination, if you're interested in finding out more about our policy work or have any comments, please do get in touch.
Tom King, Policy Adviser
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