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Actively embracing multiculturalism in the dental practice

Jan. 28, 2021
Diversity is only the first step in multiculturalism. Find out how you can make your office a more welcoming place for both staff and patients.

Oftentimes you hear speakers talk about the need for diversity in dentistry. As you take a look at the makeup of your office, you feel as though you have a pretty diverse staff, as well as a pretty diverse patient base. So now you check that box and move on to the next wave of increasing productivity and employee satisfaction.

Not so fast! While steps you have taken to acquire a diverse staff and patient base should be applauded, I am here to tell you it doesn’t stop there. As a diversity professional, I know that diversity is just the first step in inclusion and equity. In this article, I will provide suggestions on how to make your multicultural staff and patient base feel more included, which is an integral part of retention.

Embracing multiculturalism

  1. Get to know your diverse staff better. Learn the proper pronunciation of their birth name and its meaning. Learn more about their culture, their holidays, and their traditions. Allow them time off during holidays that are culturally relevant to them, and perhaps in exchange they can work during or around holidays that are culturally insignificant to them. Learn about cultural festivals, and perhaps set up a table or have handouts available to help grow and diversify your practice.
  2. Switch up your décor. The typical stock photos on display for decoration or patient education in a dental office are typically so one-note. These photos should be a reflection of the patients. So if you have a metaphorical symphony of a patient base, your stock photos should further amplify that symphony. As a dental hygienist, I sadly have had both African American adults and children tell me that they scrub and scrub but can’t seem to get the brown spot (melanin pigmentation) off of their gums. Now think back to all of the photos that show examples of a healthy mouth. None that I have seen include gingival melanin pigmentation. With that being a common occurrence in African, Asian, and Mediterranean cultures, one would think we would have more examples available. Also, in support of the LGBTQ community, it would definitely serve as a warm welcome to show more diverse familial structures.
  3. Have a family day. I get it—no one wants to work on Saturday. But how cool would it be for your staff if twice a year you invited their family members as well as your own for recall appointments and a light lunch. Mothers could exchange stories in the waiting room. Children could play together in the play area. Wives, husbands, and partners could find commonalities in the fortitude it takes to live with a dental professional. Granted, even with the utilization of insurance, this may come at a cost to the office, but the reward of this team-building experience will far outweigh the loss.

All of these suggestions are ways to support your multicultural staff and make your patients feel more accepted and included in your dental practice.    

Tesha J. Cagle, RDH, PHDHP, CDP, aka the “Dental Diversity Diva,” was born in Trenton, NJ, where she and her two sisters were the first African American children to integrate a small Catholic school. At the age of five, she was already keenly aware of her race and how it played a role in how she was treated. With 10 years’ experience as a dental hygienist and a diversity certification, she wants to ensure that the dental community is more inclusive and accepting of different cultures. Her goals are to reduce racial, gender, sex, age, and disability bias in the hiring process; minimize tensions and incidents of harassment in the office; and increase patients’ comfort and confidence in their providers’ cultural sensitivity. All inquiries about in-office and virtual diversity training can be submitted through or email at [email protected].