Celebrating Black history, children’s oral health – New Dentist Blog

The month of February is a confluence of so many of the things I love in life: showing love to those in our lives on Valentine’s Day, discount candy and chocolate the day after Valentine’s Day (haha), and the whole month being both Black History and Children’s Oral Health Month.

Dr. Simpson

It’s exciting to see Black History Month grow from the time I was a Black woman to the point that it has become a much bigger event than in my youth.

I pay attention during Black History Month to see how non-Black-owned businesses that I already patronize celebrate this month, and if they don’t, I look for businesses that made a point to celebrate Black History Month.

I tend to joke with others who are Black in earnest that “we got the shortest month” and “Black History Month should be every day.”  I wholeheartedly agree because as long as we have statistics like 18.8% of Black people in the U.S. are living in poverty (census.gov40% of Black adults are homeowners (market) a national maternal death rate of 43 for every 100,000 live births for Black women compared to 17 in the case for White women). We must continue speaking out and telling people that Black Lives Matter.

We need to allow our month to be unassisted so we can talk about our past and present.  Many people still find it offensive that Black Lives Matter is being used. We have to remind you because at face value, even in 2022, it often feels like they don’t.

I have been involved in several enrichment and outreach programs for schools in my hometown’s Indianapolis Public Schools district. It is obvious that IPS’s majority students are Black and Brown.

When I think about Children’s Oral Health Month, I think about more than oral health education to these underrepresented children, I think about their futures as members of society in the world that we are creating for them now. While they aren’t aware, because of their ages and lack of experience, at some point they will become aware and won’t be able to help feeling like their Black lives don’t matter.

How can we make dentistry a career for them? How can we make sure that these children have access not only to the dental office but also to quality health care?

One of my outreach activities was a time when I brought one of my mentors, a young Black woman, along. I had her dress up like the Tooth Fairy. The girls were all Black and so excited to meet a Black woman. They thought she was the Tooth Fairy, who would stop by their class if they had time. Are you familiar with the Tooth Fairy’s race? Since I was a mentee of my own race, I have realized that I always saw the Tooth Fairy in White.

Last year when I did a blog about Black History Month, someone commented, to paraphrase, saying that it was Black peoples’ fault that we are where we are in the U.S. because culturally we didn’t have the same values as some other groups who are doing better than us.

Dr. Simpson with her mentee, dressed as the Tooth Fairy while visiting second graders at school.

This month as Valentine’s Day comes and goes, and we still have two more weeks of Black History and Children’s Oral Health Month, I ask you to consider the profession that you love, and how children’s oral health for our Black children is so vastly different than their peers.

I just ask you to be open. If you feel like the gentleman who commented last year on my blog, I ask you to be as open-minded.

A CE course can open you up to new ways of practising a procedure. To improve our practice and our understanding of our profession, we spend hours on CE. When you read a book or article or follow a social media page about racism or critical race theory or an autobiography by a Black author, you are being open to expanding your way of thinking, and therefore your world view, and I would even go so far as to say having an expanded worldview will make you a better provider, even if you don’t have a very diverse group of patients.

If we lie about these statistics, what do you think our ulterior motive would be? What would we as Black people gain from lying if instead of 3.8% of all dentists being Black (in 2020 according to the ADA Health Policy Institute), there is actually 10%? Were we to stop promoting dentistry as a career for Black children because of the increased numbers?  Although statistics are more accurate than reported, they are still very poor in most cases. Improving health care for Black people doesn’t mean less care for all the other groups.

These statistics can be helpful: Black students are more likely to go into dentistry than White graduates, and Black graduates have higher student loans after they graduate. There may also be statistics that show Black children with higher caries rates than White peers.

You should be open to experiencing what it is like to be the Black student in a class. You will be uncomfortable if you are the only Black person in a class.

If you’ve ever been in a situation where you’ve been the only one of your gender or race in a room, you know how that feels.  Imagine feeling like that every day, and how it affects your ability to persevere and succeed.

Keep your eyes and ears open.

Happy Black History and Children’s Oral Health Month.

Dr Elizabeth Simpson is an Indianapolis general dentist. Her dental education was received at Tufts University School of Dentistry. After graduating, she completed a one-year general practice residency at Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry. She is currently a clinical assistant professor at Indiana University School of Dentistry. She is a member the American Dental Association Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention. 

Celebrating Black history, children’s oral health – New Dentist Blog

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