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Improve Your Cultural Competency

We practice in a variety of settings—private practice, public health, academia, and research, to name a few. As essential members of the oral health care team, we may provide treatment to people of various cultural backgrounds and belief systems. As such, we must strive to attain cultural competency by forming an active and trusting relationship with patients, which enables the provision of a more comprehensive and all-inclusive care. How much do you know about cultural competency?

Improve Your Cultural Competency

We practice in a variety of settings—private practice, public health, academia, and research, to name a few. As essential members of the oral health care team, we may provide treatment to people of various cultural backgrounds and belief systems. As such, we must strive to attain cultural competency by forming an active and trusting relationship with patients, which enables the provision of a more comprehensive and all-inclusive care. How much do you know about cultural competency?

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Growing Diversity

The United States has experienced a significant increase in diverse populations over the past several decades. For example, Hispanics are the largest ethnic minority in the US. In 2014, making up 17.4% of the population. US lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer population encompasses approximately 9 million people. As the diversity of the US increases, so must the knowledge of how to treat patients of various backgrounds, social realms, and belief systems.

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What is Cultural Competency?

Culture can be described as a set of beliefs, values, attitudes, and behaviors that are common within a group. These may be generational, learned patterns of beliefs and behaviors, or created in a current environment due to circumstances or actions of people within a group. Cultural competency may be depicted as a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency, or among professionals that enable that system, agency, or professionals to work effectively in cross-cultural situations.

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Communication Is Key

Specific plans should be developed that are linguistically and culturally acceptable to patient needs. When we fail to understand sociocultural differences, the communication and trust between providers and patients may suffer. This may lead to feelings of dissatisfaction, frustration, and anger. Furthermore, developing treatment plans and designing health history forms that are more inclusive of the population can enhance trust and help prevent miscommunication.

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Relationship Building

To provide culturally effective oral health care, a positive and dynamic relationship must be formed between patients and providers. This relationship requires individualized patient treatment—void of microaggressions—that is respectful and responsive to cultural needs. Microaggressions are brief exchanges—made intentionally or unintentionally—that invalidate or hurt a marginalized group through statements or actions. Microaggressions are brief daily indignities, which typically result in unintentional insults.

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Language Barriers

Patients with limited English proficiency and low health literacy will greatly benefit from alternative forms of communication, such as the teach-back method and the LEARN (listen, explain, acknowledge, recommend, negotiate) model. Both methods are based on clinician-to-patient communication skills, which enable the patient to partake in the learning and treatment planning process.

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Low Health Literacy

There appears to be a relationship between health disparities and low health literacy. Health literacy is the functional ability to read, understand, and act on health information. Adults with low health literacy may have difficulty reading insurance forms and completing health histories but they may be too embarrassed to ask for clarification. Low compliance with treatment and oral hygiene education could be an indication of low health literacy. We have an ethical obligation to assure that patients understand treatment plans, health histories, dental disease prognosis, and self-care instructions.

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