In the wake of the recent high profile police brutality cases, protests have erupted all around the country. Many of the protests have been highly visible, like the Millions March in Washington DC or NBA players showing support with “I can’t breathe” shirts.
A unique movement, “White coats for Black lives”, staged “die-ins” at over 70 universities in the effort to draw a parallel to the racial bias in police to the iniquities in the health of people of color. Physicians for a National Health Program organized the movement using social media and the hashtag #Whitecoats4Blacklives. Most protests were conducted with the full support of administrators and school deans. The events involved medical students laying en masse on the floor of campus grounds, libraries and public spaces. Some protestors carried signs saying, “#publichealthcrisis” and “End Police Brutality.” The initiative hopes to open a dialogue and draw attention to poor health outcomes for minorities in the United States and systematic racism in health care education, administration and delivery.
As dentists, we should also evaluate and discuss the biases in how we practice and the health care systems in which we work. Disparities in minority oral health are profound and well-documented. The CDC’s Healthy People 2020 campaign describes the high incidence of untreated dental decay among Hispanic, Native American and Black children and adults. Black men have significantly lower survival rates for oral pharyngeal cancers than white men (36% vs 61%). And minority adults carry a higher burden of periodontal disease than non-minorities, with about half of minority adults experiencing some form of periodontal disease. Racial bias in the practice of medicine and dentistry “kills, sickens, and provides inadequate care.”
Let’s participate in this important discussion and educate ourselves about our patients and whatever biases that may exist in the delivery of oral health care in America. This is important because in order to direct change, we must first evaluate and discuss the iniquities that are present. This in depth look can lead to uncomfortable conversations, but if we are to move forward as a country we need to strengthen and heal our unhealthiest populations. So start the conversation at your dental school and be a dentist that promotes health for all and people.
~Dr. Alex Malebranche, San Francisco pediatric resident ’15