Racial and ethnic minorities

  Population considerations

  • Lack of access to dental care.  Racial and ethnic minority communities have higher rates of unmet oral health needs than other populations (Diamond, 2005).  They may not have access to services to meet their preventive or emergency oral health needs. Diverse communities may also experience health provider shortage problems.  
  • Lack of professional diversity.  Within the dental profession, very small numbers of dentists are from racial or ethnic minority backgrounds (Nash, 2003). This may contribute to patients’ overall experiences (Kelly, 2005).  
  • Discrimination.  Research shows that families from racial and ethnic backgrounds sometimes experience discrimination as a result of using Medicaid (Kelly, 2005). The care is perceived as lacking the same level of quality as non-Medicaid-dependent patients.
  • Lack of familiarity. In racial and ethnic minority groups, it is important that there is a sense of trust between the parent and the dentist. Racial and ethnic minority parents sometimes reject the idea of taking their children to a dentist about whom they know nothing (Kelly, 2005).
  • Attitudes toward prevention.  The Western tradition of using health services for preventive maintenance may be a new concept for some racial and ethnic communities (Slaughter, 2005).

  Strategies to address these considerations

  • Address service gaps. It is important to identify gaps in service and work with area providers, local community organizations, faith based organizations and government agencies to increase access to care.
  • Increase awareness of preventive dental care. Dentists should be trained to discuss the benefits of preventive dental care and encourage its use with their patients.  The use of campaigns and promotions, individual and group education and supportive relationships may be helpful in educating patients.
  • Involve the community of interest. It is important that individuals who are from the priority populations and are both bi-lingual and bi-cultural take an active role in planning, implementing and evaluating interventions.
  • Engage community stakeholders. Leadership and active participation by community members, especially dentists and community and religious leaders, can strengthen the credibility of and respect for the intervention.  Engaging leaders and getting active participation by community members, can strengthen the credibility of and respect for the intervention.
  • Provide cultural competency training. Strategies to reach racial and ethnic minority populations should be culturally relevant (NCCC). It may be useful to provide training in cultural competency to individuals who are working with a community so that they can learn more about the differences within and across communities. See Cultural Competence for more information.
  • Tailor to culture. Interventions tailored to reflect the culture of a population subgroup may be more effective than those aimed at a population in general. This may mean taking into consideration characteristics such as the community’s primary language, common phrases and terms used by the community, visual imagery that represents the community and their experiences when designing oral health intervention components, materials and incentives.

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