By: Carmen Vega
University of Michigan School of Dentistry
Dental Hygiene, Class of 2024 Candidate
I play the part of an oral healthcare provider and a member of the LGBTQIA+ community every day. I am a trained dental assistant and am currently completing my final year of dental hygiene school, where I serve as the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion liaison for the program. After learning about the AIDPH’s LGBTQIA+ Oral Health Awareness Week, I immersed myself into researching oral health resources outside of my learning institution. In doing so, I quickly recognized the limited public resources available, not only for my community, but for healthcare providers as well.
As an accomplice, I believe that true change begins in the education system, which inspired me to share the LGBTQIA+ Oral Health Week information with my classmates and peers. My goal was to enhance the cultural competence and sensitivity of future dental providers by bridging the gap of awareness that inherently exists throughout the dental education system. As professionals, we are accountable to this community and therefore cannot turn a blind eye to the equitable oral care that is deserved, which ultimately begins with student providers. The system is flawed, and the societal framework fails to recognize anyone outside of heteronormative lifestyles.
In my own queer provider experience, I find that I withhold parts of who I am to my cisgender heterosexual patients to separate my personal and professional life. This defense mechanism protects my peace. I fear that my role as an educated dental professional could be overshadowed by intentional or unintentional forms of discrimination, projected by the patients in my care.
Thank you to AIDPH for pioneering this movement and providing an opportunity to share my passion and lived experience. My hope is that this platform will serve as a springboard to ignite change for this community by providing the resources necessary to educate current and future dental professionals. Though we may not be able to rectify the historic disparities faced by the LGBTQIA+ community, as educated accomplices, we can cultivate change beginning in the dental chair.