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What Dentists Don’t Know About Transgender Patients

The Hippocratic Oath may best be understood by its central guiding principle — do no harm — but it actually features several tenets, including the importance of a physician’s “warmth, sympathy, and understanding.” That emotional care can be as important as prescriptions or procedures at times. 

But many marginalized groups still face discrimination from medical professionals, including those working in oral health, such as dentists and oral surgeons. “Transgender people face can face an exceptional degree of anxiety and bias in healthcare,” according to the Human Rights Campaign.

One way to gauge prevalent attitudes in specific medical professions involves turning to the literature itself. Hostos Community College Professors Diana Macri and Katie Wolfe reviewed journal articles over a 17-year period to understand how oral health professionals viewed transgender patients, and what, if anything, needed to change. They published their resulting literature review in the Canadian Journal of Dental Hygiene.

Of the 18 relevant articles Macri and Wolfe found in that time period, only seven had to do with transgender individuals’ oral health. From those, they concluded that oral health professionals need to be better trained in three significant areas: understanding that gender is non-binary, that identifying as transgender is not a mental health problem, and that transgender individuals face heightened discrimination and violence.

Macri and Wolfe’s review revealed the dearth of research that has been conducted about the oral health profession and transgender patients, which has real consequences for those working in the field. “Due to the limited amount of literature on the oral health status of transgender populations, it may be difficult for dental hygienists to provide culturally competent care,” they wrote.

The review is a call to do better moving forward. “Oral health care professionals have a responsibility to render nonbiased, nonprejudicial care to all of their clients,” the researchers concluded, “and must therefore must have a thorough understanding of the needs and concerns of all population groups including transgender individuals.”

Beyond SUM

Work By

Kate Wolfe (Assistant Professor, Behavioral and Social Sciences) | Profile 1
Diana Macri (Assistant Professor, Dental Hygience) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools

Hostos Community College