The month of February is a confluence of so many of the things I love in life: showing love to those in our lives on Valentine’s Day, discounting sweets and chocolate the day after Valentine’s Day (haha), and the whole month is both Black History and children’s oral health month.
As a black woman, it’s exciting to see how Black History Month has grown into so much more than what it felt like when I was a kid: the 28 days (20 if you only count the school days when most of the learning was done) when all of the history of the United States involving black people was crammed into a month of study, until now: when non-black companies demonstrate their commitment to promoting inclusion and diversity, and when we learn from the lesser-known black people who have changed and who are making history. change, and when people seem more willing to support black people and our causes.
During Black History Month, I pay attention to how companies that don’t own Black, whom I already patronize, celebrate this month, and if they don’t, I look for companies that have made a point to celebrate Black History Month.
I tend to joke with others who are genuinely black that “we have the shortest month” and “Black History Month should be every day.” I totally agree because as long as we have statistics that 18.8% of black people in the US are living in poverty (census.gov), or 40.6% of black adults who are homeowners, compared to 74% of white adults (marketwatch.com), or a national maternal death rate for black women of 43 per 100,000 live births compared to 17 for white women, we must continue to speak up and let people know that Black Lives Matter.
We need our month to have undisturbed time to let our history and current status be heard. There are still a lot of people who get outraged by the expression Black Lives Matter. We have to remind you because at first glance, even in 2022, it often feels like they don’t.
I have done several outreach/enrichment programs for schools in the Indianapolis Public Schools district of my hometown. It probably goes without saying that the majority of the students that make up IPS are our Black and Brown kids.
When I think of Children’s Oral Health Month, I think of more than oral health education for these underrepresented children, I think of their future as members of society in the world we are creating for them now. Although they are not aware of it, due to their age and lack of experience, at some point they will become aware and can’t help but feel that their black lives don’t matter.
How can we present dentistry as a profession to them? How can we ensure that more of these children have access to quality healthcare beyond just the dental office?
During one of my outreach activities, I took one of my mentees, a black young lady, with me. I had her dress up as the tooth fairy. We were in a second grade class and the girls, all black, were SO excited to see a black woman. To them, she was the real Tooth Fairy who had free time to visit their class. Have any of you ever considered the Tooth Fairy race? To be honest, as I looked at girls of my own race, fascinated by my mentee, I realized that I always imagined the tooth fairy as white.
When I blogged about Black History Month last year, someone commented, to paraphrase, that it was black people’s fault that we are where we are in the US because culturally we didn’t have the same values as some other groups. they do it better than us.
This month, as Valentine’s Day comes and goes, and we have two more weeks of Black History and Children’s Oral Health Month, I ask you to think about the profession you love, and how child oral health for our black children is so vastly different. than their age group.
I’m just asking you to be open. If you feel the same as the gentleman who commented on my blog last year, I ask you: just be open.
Taking a CE course opens you up to a new way to practice a particular procedure. We take hours and hours of CE to continually improve our practice and understanding of our career. When you read a book or article or follow a social media page about racism or critical race theory or an autobiography of a black author, you are open to broadening your mindset, and with it your worldview, and I would even go that way. to say that having a comprehensive worldview makes you a better healthcare provider, even if you don’t have a very diverse group of patients.
What do you think our ulterior motive would be if we lie about these statistics? What do we, as black people, gain by lying if instead of 3.8% of all practicing dentists being black (in 2020, from the ADA Health Policy Institute), there is actually 10%? Would we stop promoting dentistry as a career for black kids because the numbers increased? Even if the stats are better than stated, they are still terrible in most cases. Improving health care for black people does not mean less concern for all other groups.
Be open to these stats, such as how many black students go into dentistry, the higher level of student loans black graduates have when they leave dental school, or statistics on black children who have a higher rate of caries than their white counterparts.
Be open to what it must feel like to be the only black student in a class. Be open to feeling uncomfortable, as we often are when we’re the only one in a room and have to be the spokesperson for our entire race.
If you’ve ever been in a situation where you were the only one of your gender or race in a room, you know what that feels like. Now imagine feeling that every day and the perseverance and resilience it takes to succeed.
Just be open.
Happy black history and oral health month for kids.
dr. Elizabeth Simpson is a general dentist from Indianapolis, Indiana. She attended Tufts University School of Dentistry for her dental education. After graduating, she completed a one-year GP course at Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry. She is now a clinical assistant professor at Indiana University School of Dentistry. She serves on the American Dental Association Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention, on a diversity task force at the Indiana Dental Association, and a guest blogger at the ADA New Dentist Now Blog.