Everyone wants to be proud of their smile. Unfortunately, many communities across the United States lack access to oral health care, often due to social or economic challenges. One such group is the LGBTQ+ population.
On June 22, dental students and faculty from the Dental College of Georgia at Augusta University (DCG), in conjunction with the university’s Equality Clinic, helped address these barriers at the Pride Festival in Augusta. Throughout the afternoon, students performed head and neck exams and oral cancer screenings on 55 members of the community. If anything of concern was noted, patients were referred to the oral medicine department at the college.
“I loved meeting so many new people at Pride,” said Sarah Ozturk, a third-year student. “There were tons of folks with problems that they didn’t know could be fixed. One person had no obvious dental issues, but an infected salivary gland had been bothering him for months. One of our attending oral pathologists [Dr. Zoya Kurago] explained to him what was causing his pain, and we put him in touch with faculty at the school to help fix this problem.”
Additionally, students helped facilitate the screening process for those with dental concerns to become patients at the dental college. “Connecting with potential patients for clinic was great,” said fourth-year student Joseph Nasworthy. “Everyone was super friendly, and I hope to see some familiar faces at the school.”
Medical student volunteers provided information regarding the overall operations of the Equality Clinic, a multidisciplinary student-run clinic that serves to address health concerns of residents of the Central Savannah River Area. Here, medical, dental, occupational therapy, physician assistant and pharmacy students provide free care to people who are under- or uninsured and fall below 200% of the federal poverty level, focusing on the LGBTQ+ population.
During bimonthly clinics throughout the year, dental students provide oral cancer exams, dental screenings and oral hygiene and health advice. Students also direct patients toward getting treatment at the dental school. Many patients drive several hours to get to the clinic and are provided with other resources regarding dental facilities closer to their homes. Services provided by students and faculty from other disciplines include primary care for uninsured patients, gender transitioning support, rapid HIV screening with the Department of Public Health and Ryan White mobile clinic, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV-I, free blood work, free clinical pathology tests and mental health support.
“Volunteering at Equality Clinic has been such a rewarding part of dental school,” said Megan Davidson, a fourth-year student. “I loved increasing awareness of the clinic at Pride, while also giving back to the community. Plus, it was a blast, even though it was over 90 degrees outside. I’m glad we were in the shade!”
Many LGBTQ+ patients all over the country face barriers to care, whether due to local stigma, lack of providers trained and competent in LGBTQ+ health care or discrimination by providers within the field. According to a 2010 study by Lambda Legal, 56% of lesbian, gay and bisexual people and 70% of of transgender people have been physically or verbally abused, refused health care, blamed for their health status by a health care professional, or have had medical staff refuse to touch them.
Through facilities such as Equality Clinic, the often overlooked needs of these patients can be addressed more thoroughly. Everyone deserves equal access to health care, and we as dental providers should be proud to help all members of our community.
~Emily Williams, Georgia ’20, ASDA Contributing Editor