In April, youth at the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center and Next Generation Zone
learned the ins and outs of the dental world through our Dental Professional Pathways course dedicated to expanding dental health professional pathways to historically underrepresented communities. We are working to change the narrative of future dental professionals among historically underrepresented communities.
“I want students to know that there are people out there in the world who do want to invest in them,” said Lolinda Turner, program manager for diversity, and inclusion at Delta Dental of Washington. “We bring awareness to youth about diversity, equity and inclusion, empathy, dental careers, oral health and mentorships. They have more options than they realize.”
Throughout the multi-day Dental Professional Pathways program, students received an introduction to a variety of topics in dentistry including the history of dentistry, anatomy, career opportunities, oral health, workplace professionalism, gainful employment pathways and disparities that exist in the dental field – as well as hands-on experiences. By learning about and practicing key components in dentistry, students come to understand the importance of oral health. Students also learned how to professionally conduct themselves in providing care, empathy and compassion to those in need.
The program was designed to help address the imbalance of historically underrepresented groups within the dental profession – which studies show is linked to oral health disparities. Because of this lack of representation within dentistry, many within BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ and other underrepresented communities avoid visiting the dentist regularly due to historical traumas and current day insensitivities which diminish trust.
“The health of your mouth is one of the most visible indicators of inequality,” says Dr. Kyle Dosch, Dental Director. “When more people have healthy smiles, everyone benefits – kids thrive in the classroom, adults have better job opportunities.”
According to the most recent American Dental Association figures, only 5.9% of dentists in this country are Hispanic and 3.8% are Black; and the numbers are comparably low for dental hygienists and assistants – for which there is currently a serious workforce shortage statewide, impacting our state’s oral and overall health.
The Dental Professional Pathways program is unique in how it not only educates youth on the functions of dental careers, but also teaches youth how to treat one another and future patients with empathy, grace and compassion. Turner, a former registered dental assistant and dental office manager, sees the program as an opportunity to show students how becoming a dental professional is an act of care for their community.
The program is part of a new national Delta Dental Institute campaign – Greater Diversity in the Oral Health Workforce – to help increase the number of oral health professionals from historically underrepresented groups. The campaign includes a new Delta Dental Oral Health Diversity Fund for supporting oral health education, research and community investment.
Since the Dental Professional Pathways pilot began in Washington last year, the program has reached more than 800 youth – with plans to expand in Washington and two other states under Turner’s guidance. For more information, visit https://www.deltadentalwa.com/our-company/DEI/Dental-Workforce-Diversity-and-Inclusion