From Immigrant to Dental Care Advocate

Article

How my past inspired my passion to break down barriers in dentistry.

©Drazen/stock.adobe.com

©Drazen/stock.adobe.com

Like many immigrants, my family came to America in search of a better life. I was born in Egypt and immigrated to the United States when I was a young girl. My early years in America were plagued with many challenges but I was always taught the value of education.

After I graduated from dental school, I purchased a dental practice that I thought would be my dream office. However, after a few months in practice, I rapidly began to lose patients. I couldn’t understand why this was happening. Was it because I was young? New? What was it? I was board licensed and a proud graduate of Howard University College of Dentistry. Sadly, I came to realize I had underestimated the prejudice and close-mindedness of the existing practice’s patients. I was heartbroken. This experience further invigorated me to make it my mission to lead, diversify, and strive for more representation in the industry.

I know firsthand how much representation in the industry matters and the importance of ensuring equitable access to care. In fact, many patients cite limited options they feel represents them as the main hurdle to receiving affordable, quality dental and orthodontic care. This is one reason why it is so important to me to advocate for increased access to affordable, safe, and effective dental care and shed light on widespread inequalities in dentistry.

Acknowledging the Disparities

Underserved communities face disparities in health and dental care. According to the results of a recent survey, 47% of respondents struggle to receive affordable, quality dental and orthodontic care.1 Evidence also suggests that children in minority and low-income communities are more likely to have unmet dental needs.2

Oral care is directly linked to overall health and enhances our quality of life. As leaders in the industry, we have a responsibility to break down barriers to dental care and embrace innovative ways to help our patients receive the best care so they can live well. This is my personal mission. I am working relentlessly to not only bring awareness to disparities in care but to identify viable solutions.

Identifying Barriers to Quality Care

Many times, access to quality, affordable dental care is determined by age, economic status, and a number of other social and commercial factors.3 Unfortunately, minority communities are disproportionately affected by many of these barriers. Study data show that African American and Hispanic children and adults are less likely to have seen a dentist in the past 6 months than non-Hispanic White populations.4 Additionally, African American and Latino children are less likely to have had a preventive dental visit.4

There are a number of reasons for a lack of access to quality dental care, including the following:3,4

  • Cost: More than 25% of survey respondents stated that they have limited options available in their budget for quality dental and orthodontic care—and approximately 55% of patients said they pay for dental and orthodontic visits out of pocket.
  • Dentist shortages: As in many other industries, the health and dental industries are in the midst of a staffing shortage. Over 60% of counties in the United States don’t have an orthodontist’s office, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Access: Around 50% of those in minority populations struggle to receive quality dental care and many do not have access to oral health care options. Although the gap in access to quality care can affect anyone, we must acknowledge that this occurs more frequently in lower-income and minority communities.

Leveling the Playing Field

There is no doubt an accessibility and affordability gap exists in the health care and dental fields. I want to bridge that gap—and by collaborating with partners who share this mission, I can further my purpose-driven mission to increase access to quality dental care and create more diversity in the industry.

Partnering with like-minded practices and organizations allows dentists to offer better access to dental services at competitive price points. For instance, as a partner in the SmileDirectClub Partner Network, I am able to offer my patients a safe, effective teeth straightening option that costs 60% less than other options. This opens up clear aligner therapy to people who may not have considered treatment previously, because of cost or a lack of access to orthodontia. The company developed a smarter, more accessible way to straighten teeth, focused on increasing the number of people that could be served.

Helping pave the way for underrepresented dentists to achieve their goals and make a difference in the industry is also crucial. Mentorship is a real need in our industry and something else I am focused on. I am happy to report that we are seeing some progress with new initiatives and scholarships available, which are aimed at empowering the next generation of underrepresented dental practitioners and helping to break down inequalities in oral health care.

Embracing innovative technology and teledentistry helps increase access to care. Teledentistry is a relatively new concept in the field but has proved to be a worthwhile option for patients seeking dental care. In fact, according to findings of a recent survey, 50% of respondents reported having easy access to their doctor as the greatest benefit of telehealth services, followed by flexible scheduling (46%) and elimination of transportation to in-person appointments (39%).1

Bringing About Positive Change

Access to dental care in underserved communities and equitable representation in dentistry are ongoing issues. My mission is to increase pathways to oral care in communities of color, advocate for diverse representation in the industry, and dismantle barriers to health equity. This is what moves me every day: I want to be a better dentist and a better human being, and make positive changes in the industry.

References

  1. Telehealth’s bright future. SmileDirectClub. Accessed date: August 1, 2022. ttps://news.smiledirectclub.com/static-files/d80ae076-8bfd-4068-b58b-e2dae74d0e3d
  2. Assari S, Hani N. Household income and children’s unmet dental care need; Blacks’ diminished return. Dent J (Basel). 2018;6(2):17. doi:10.3390/dj6020017
  3. Northridge ME, Kumar A, Kaur R. Disparities in access to oral health care. Annu Rev Public Health. 2020;41:513-535. doi:10.1146/annurev-publhealth-040119-094318
  4. Gilbert GH, Shah GR, Shelton BJ, Heft MW, Bradford EH Jr, Chavers LS. Racial differences in predictors of dental care use. Health Serv Res. 2002;37(6):1487-1507. doi:10.1111/1475-6773.01217
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