A trip to the dentist’s office is already cause for nerves — your provider’s homophobia shouldn’t make it worse.
Whether you’re scheduling a physical, sitting down with a therapist, or heading in for your regular dental cleaning, your only concern when seeing a healthcare provider should be your health — not whether you’ll encounter microaggressions or other forms of discrimination at the doctor’s office. Outright homophobia notwithstanding, there are plenty of reasons to prioritize seeing healthcare professionals who are LGBTQ friendly. And that includes dentists.
We sat down with Dr. Carlos J. Huerta, an LGBTQ-affirming dentist and Lighthouse provider, to learn about the five ways he and other dentists work hard to make dental care LGBTQ-friendly.
1. Quelling Anxieties Unique to the LGBTQ Community
It’s no secret that going to the dentist’s office and sitting in a room full of drills can trigger anxiety, but if you’re a member of the LGBTQ community, that anxiety can be heightened even further. Dr. Huerta has worked with patients who’ve experienced discrimination and hostility from other providers after revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity. If you’re bringing that experience into your next dental appointment, it’s easy to understand why you might be nervous about a new dentist’s potential biases. Studies back this up — research shows that experiences of discrimination, especially against the trans community, have motivated queer patients to look for explicitly LGBTQ-affirming dental care.
To help LGBTQ individuals feel relaxed from the moment they walk through the door to the time they lie down in the dentist’s chair, it’s important to understand the different ways in which these negative experiences may have affected patients. For dentists who belong to the LGBTQ community themselves, simply speaking to a shared experience can immediately put patients at ease. For dentists who aren’t queer personally, but who want to ensure that their practice is LGBTQ-affirming, sensitivity training, queer-friendly advertising, and LGBTQ-inclusive brochures or office posters can signal that the office is a safe space.
2. LGBTQ-friendly Intake Forms
Intake forms with limited options for gender and/or sexual orientation can be frustrating for a patient whose identity isn’t represented. LGBTQ-affirming offices like Dr. Huerta’s use documentation that’s specifically designed to make queer patients feel heard and respected. “For communities of people who may have had negative experiences in the past, it’s so important that LGBTQ-affirming providers make them feel welcome from the moment they book an appointment,” he says. “Intake forms are often one of the first impressions patients will have of your practice.”
With LGBTQ-friendly intake forms, dentists and staff can ask for pronouns so that queer patients can be addressed properly. Space to note sex assigned at birth and as well gender identity can likewise ensure that queer individuals don’t feel erased. And, since it’s often easier for patients to ask and/or answer questions on forms rather than in person, intake documentation should include areas for LGBTQ patients to alert dentists of any general health issues. Providing that extra space can help ensure that specific needs are met, and not brushed under the rug.
3. Knowledge of LGBTQ Oral Sexual Health
When you’re seeing a healthcare professional, it’s important to be clear about any signs or symptoms that may be cause for worry. That can be hard, however, if being honest about these concerns would reveal personal information that some doctors aren’t equipped to address — or that may bring about a negative response.
LGBTQ-affirming dentists are prepared to address any issues in the oral environment. Patients with questions about oral STIs should feel comfortable discussing their sexual practices and, if needed, asking about possible treatments without fear of judgement. MouthHealthy.org, sponsored by the American Dental Association, notes the link between oral sex and its possible effect on the mouth, so it’s important to have a queer-friendly dentist who can be trusted to identify and treat any symptoms. If patients see dentists who aren’t LGBTQ-affirming and who have signaled, overtly or otherwise, that they’re not receptive to frankness regarding oral sexual health, patients may risk losing out on care they desperately need.
4. Experience with Medical Issues Common to LGBTQ Community
LGBTQ-affirming dentists have a unique and comprehensive understanding of different queer lifestyles. When it comes to dental questions from LGBTQ patients, they have the knowledge and experience to help. Party drugs, for example, can lead to a gradual destruction of the tooth and damage to the gums. LGBTQ-affirming dentists are on the lookout for signs of drug-related wear and tear, and queer patients won’t have to feel self-conscious about getting the care they need from someone who won’t judge them for their lifestyle.
5. No Time for HIV Hysteria
With an LGBTQ-affirming dentist, you’re also less likely to run into discrimination fueled by HIV hysteria. Dr. Huerta’s patients come in with stories of other providers who’ve refused to care for queer individuals who are HIV+ — or worse, assume that every queer patient poses a risk of HIV exposure. Aside from being based on misconceptions formed during the height of the AIDS crisis — like today’s outdated blood donation policies — this gross generalization shows a complete lack of medical understanding and ignores the fact that HIV+ people have the same right to medical attention as everyone else.
Interested in making an appointment with an LGBTQ-affirming dentist? Click here.