FYI

Dentist blog from Delta Dental

Tag: Language Assistance Program (Page 1 of 2)

How to become a more culturally competent dental practice

It can be easy to think that most people you interact with have a similar background to your own. But when it comes to practicing dentistry, making these sorts of assumptions and judgements can actually restrict your ability to successfully treat your current patients or even to grow your patient base.

So how do you address and change these beliefs and habits? That’s where cultural competency comes in.

What is cultural competency?

Cultural competency is your ability to understand, appreciate and interact with people from cultures and belief systems that differ from your own. Cultural competence is a lifelong process of becoming more aware and seeing past your deeply engrained viewpoint.

Cultural competency consists of five components:

  • Cultural awareness. Taking time to understand your patients’ beliefs, values and practices.
  • Cultural knowledge. Learning about the world views of diverse patient groups.
  • Cultural skill. Collecting relevant cultural data about your patients’ health problems and conducting interviews and evaluations to determine treatments based on needs.
  • Cultural encounters. Participating in multicultural activities to learn about diverse groups directly.
  • Cultural desire. Delivering care for all patients equally, regardless of cultural values and beliefs.

The goal isn’t to change your beliefs or values. Instead, you’re learning to shift your perspective so you can better work with and help people who may be different than you. By understanding your patients’ viewpoints and meeting them where they’re at, you can provide more effective treatment and support that will fit their unique needs and means.

How to become more culturally competent

The first step to becoming more culturally competent is evaluating where your practice currently stands.  For example, consider how patients who primarily speak a non-English language would navigate your office to schedule and come in for a typical visit. Would they be able to easily communicate with your staff and fill out forms? Would your important in-office signage be understandable? How would you discuss procedures with them?

Do your best to identify areas of improvement and start working towards addressing them. Try to think about how people of different religions, ethnicities, races and customs would experience your office. It’s likely that you won’t see everything, but even small changes can be a massive help to patients. Make sure that you create a warm, welcoming environment so that every patient feels comfortable asking questions and participating in their care so you can better serve them.

One great way to address issues is by giving patients an easy way to submit feedback and encouraging them to do so. Here are some ideas on how to get started:

  • Create a place for feedback. Set up an email address or an online form where patients can provide direct feedback. You should also consider creating a place where everyone who works in your practice can add their thoughts or ideas that patients mention off-hand.
  • Tell your patients how to submit feedback. You could include a small card in any goodie bags with a URL, email address or even a QR code that points to the form. To get the most helpful feedback, include instructions in commonly spoken languages and give examples of the kind of ideas you’re looking for.
  • Analyze the results. When you start receiving responses, pay attention to trends and suggestions that pop up frequently. If multiple people are having issues with the forms in your practice, it may be time to update them!

An important part of cultural competence is taking action, with the goal of improving your service and creating better outcomes for your patients.

Resources from Delta Dental

Delta Dental offers a variety of resources to help you create a culturally inclusive practice.


As a more culturally competent practice, you’ll be in a much better position to care for your patients and grow your practice.

How to serve non-English speaking patients

The U.S. is more of a melting pot than ever, with about 350 languages currently being spoken, according to the latest census statistics. That means more people may be coming into your practice who may have difficulty communicating with you.

What can you do to help patients with limited English proficiency? You can receive free language assistance for Delta Dental members through our Language Assistance Program (LAP). LAP gives you access to interpretation and translation assistance that meets state and federal requirements for language assistance services.

Request interpretive services

You can get interpretive services in 170 different languages through LAP. This service is available to Delta Dental members at no charge and allows you to talk to patients through an interpreter so you can understand their needs clearly and give them the best care possible. For phone interpretation, just call 866-530-9675 to get an interpreter the next time you need one.

If you prefer to talk with a patient face to face, an interpreter can also meet you in your office and translate any conversations you have. Live interpretation services require 72 hours’ notice.

Get member materials

Members can access information about our plans and benefits in different languages, too. The Delta Dental website is available in Spanish, and members can learn about the different plans and benefits as well as read articles on dental health and wellness.

Plan materials can be translated into other languages and made into accessible formats such as Braille and audio files upon request.

Spread the word

If you or someone in your practice speaks another language, it’s worth advertising this fact. Make sure your dentist directory listing includes the languages spoken at your practice. This can help patients who speak your language find you easily.

Create a welcoming environment

You can do even more to welcome patients who don’t speak English. Create a protocol for your staff to follow when talking to patients with limited English proficiency, and make a conscious effort to be aware of and respect cultural differences.

If you have a large number of patients who speak a specific language, make sure your policies, brochures and forms are available in that language.

Patients with limited English proficiency may feel uncomfortable at first, but if you create a warm, welcoming environment and help them overcome the language barriers, you’ll serve them better and grow your practice at the same time.

Glaucoma and its surprising connection to oral health

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Learn more about the diseases link to oral health and what you can do for your patients with glaucoma.

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma occurs when a buildup of fluid causes pressure in the eyes to increase to abnormal levels, damaging the optic nerve. The resulting nerve damage causes partial or total blindness in the affected eye. After it occurs, this vision loss can’t be reversed, but early treatment to reduce eye pressure may reduce or halt the damage.

More than 3 million people in the United States have glaucoma, and the number of people who have the disease is expected to more than double by 2050, according to the National Eye Institute. While anyone, including children, can get glaucoma, the condition is most common in:

  • People over age 60
  • African Americans over age 40
  • People who have a family history of the disease

OK, but how is glaucoma connected to oral health?

Various studies suggest a connection between poor oral health and glaucoma. A 26-year study of more than 40,000 men over the age of 40 found a correlation between tooth loss and primary open-angle glaucoma.

The study found that the risk for glaucoma was 43% greater in men who had lost at least one tooth than those who didn’t lose any teeth. When periodontal disease was also factored in, the glaucoma risk for men with tooth loss increased to 86% higher than men with no tooth loss.

While the specific cause isn’t certain, researchers speculate that bacteria at the site of the tooth loss can cause inflammation, which triggers microbes and cytokines that can affect the eyes.

What can I do for my patients with glaucoma?

If you have patients who been diagnosed with glaucoma, here are few steps you can take to help control the condition and make their visit easier:

  • Determine whether you patients are at risk for the disease. Review patients’ personal and family medical history to see whether glaucoma runs in their family.
  • Be sure that patients with glaucoma or are at risk for the disease schedule regular dental cleanings. Preventive care not only helps improve the health of teeth and gums, it can also help improve patients’ overall health and help prevent conditions that lead to inflammation, which can contribute to worsening glaucoma.
  • Ensure that patients who have gum disease follow the treatment regimen you prescribe for them. Along with tooth loss, periodontitis has been linked to inflammation and other health problems
  • Choose sedatives carefully. Certain sedatives used during dental procedures contain ingredients that can increase pressure in the optic nerve.
  • Take steps to accommodate low-vision and blind patients. A few simple steps can make their visit and treatment easier and safer. Delta Dental can also translate written materials, such as plan information, to Braille or audio for blind and low-vision patients. Contact Customer Service to make this request with 72 hours’ notice.

In dentistry, diversity matters

The minority population of the United States is growing — the U.S. census put it at nearly 40% in 2019. Despite this, ethnic and racial disparity persists within the dental industry, both in terms of who receives care and who provides it.

Gaps in dental care for minorities are significant

While the gap has closed somewhat in the past decade, utilization of dental care among minorities, including Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans, still significantly trails that of whites.

For people of color, cost is a significantly greater barrier to dental care than it is for their white counterparts. And this gap is growing — since 2005, the cost of seeing a dentist has increasingly become more of an issue for Black and Hispanic adults and seniors than it has for whites.

  • In 2019 almost 30% of black seniors reported that the cost of dental care was an issue, compared with only about 10% for white seniors.
  • The number of Black seniors reporting cost as a barrier to care has increased nearly 20% since 2005.
  • The number of white seniors who reported cost as a barrier has increased only 6% during the same period.
  • Cost has become less of a barrier to dental care for minority children since 2005, in part because dental services for children are now a mandatory benefit within Medicaid.

Language can also create a barrier to dental care. For instance, a study found that limited English proficiency is related to oral health and dentist visits. Among the groups studied, Spanish-speaking Hispanics reported the poorest oral health, most infrequent dentist visits and fewest teeth. Limited English proficiency can also be a barrier to dental care for some Asian populations.

There’s also a significant lack of diversity among dentists

Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans are severely underrepresented among dentists in the United States, and this situation has remained largely unchanged for more than a decade. 

  • As the white population of the United States has decreased during the past 15 years, so has the number of white dentists. However, whites are still overrepresented, with 60% of the population contributing more than 70% of its dentists.
  • Asians are significantly overrepresented, contributing 18% of the country’s dentists despite making up only 5.6% of the population.
  • Meanwhile, the Hispanic population in the United States has increased to around 18% from 14% during the same period. Despite this, the percentage of Hispanic dentists in the U.S. has increased only slightly, to 6%.
  • For the Black community, both its percentage of the population and the dental pool has remained unchanged, making up only about 4% of the country’s dentists despite comprising more than 12% of the population.

Among dental assistants, situation is more encouraging. More than 30% of registered dental assistants are Hispanic and 7% are Asian, and the majority are women. However, Blacks are also underrepresented here; fewer than 7% of dental assistants are Black.

Looking toward the future, there is some cause for optimism.

  • The number of women dentists in the U.S. is increasing. They’re also more ethnically diverse than their male counterparts, with a larger percentage of Hispanics and Blacks.
  • Applications to dental schools by underrepresented minorities have risen, increasing to more than 15% in 2015 from 12% in 2000.
  • Dental school enrollments were also up during the same period, with underrepresented minorities making up about 5% more of the student population in 2015 than they did in 2000.
  • Dental school enrollment among Native Americans has seen significant gains, according to a 2019 study.

However, the 2019 study also found that Black enrollment in dental schools is stagnant. And despite the growing dental school enrollment numbers among minorities, population parity among U.S. dentists is still a long way off. 

For example, dental school enrollees from underrepresented minorities in 2015 totaled less than 2% of the dentists needed to achieve true parity among dentists in the United States.

Why diversity matters

Minority dentists are crucial to ensure that diverse communities have access to dental care. Studies have shown that while minorities make up a disproportionately small percentage of the country’s dentists, they provide a disproportionately large share of the dental care to our nation’s minority and underserved communities.

  • 40% of Black dentists report that more than half of the patients they serve are Black.
  • Native Americans dentists report than more than 20% of their patients are Native American, even though Native Americans make up less than 2% of the U.S. population.
  • Minority dentists also serve a much-higher-than-average number of patients on public insurance than do white dentists.
  • Conversely, while white dentists make up the majority of dentists in the U.S., they’re also the least likely to participate in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
  • More than half of Black, Hispanic and Native American children are insured through Medicaid and CHIP or another form of public insurance, as opposed to only about a quarter of white children.

Trust is another issue. Studies have indicated that minorities, particularly those in lower socioeconomic brackets, often have a higher level of distrust for physicians than do whites. 

However, when treated by a physician of their own race or ethnicity, not only are minority patients more trusting, they’re also more likely to be satisfied with their level of care, receive preventive care and agree to necessary procedures.

How to make your practice more culturally inclusive

Cultural awareness and sensitivity has become more important than ever for an inclusive practice. A great way to ensure that your practice is inclusive is to develop cultural competence.

An important part of cultural competence is taking action, with the goal of improving your service and creating better outcomes for your patients. Another crucial component of cultural competence is being able to communicate effectively with your patients:

  • Try to learn a few relevant phrases (hello, goodbye, please, thank you, open your mouth) for your low English proficiency patients. To help you communicate with Spanish-speaking patients, Delta Dental offers a downloadable English-to-Spanish phrase guide for dentists.
  • Ask whether anyone on your staff is at least partly fluent in another language — you might already have a valuable resource. If not, considering hiring staff members who are bilingual or multilingual. Don’t forget to update your Delta Dental directory listing to reflect the languages you and your staff speak.
  • Make health and wellness materials available in relevant languages. Delta Dental offers a variety of Spanish-language health education materials, including Grin! magazine and wellness videos.

How Delta Dental can help

Delta Dental offers a variety of resources to help you create a culturally inclusive practice.

  • Delta Dental’s Language Assistance Program (LAP) offers enrollees interpretation via telephone in more than 170 languages.
  • On-site interpreters are also available for Delta Dental enrollees with limited English proficiency — at no cost to the enrollee or you. (Onsite interpretation services require at least 72 hours advanced notice.
  • You can learn more about the LAP by logging in to Provider Tools and navigating to the Reference Library.

As part of our commitment to fight racism and build minority representation in the dentistry profession, Delta Dental plans to partner with universities to provide scholarships for qualified applicants who are Black, Hispanic or represent other communities of color.

Finally, to advance dental health and access, the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation also supports dozens of agencies and nonprofits that provide dental care to underserved and minority populations.

Tips for caring for your blind and low-vision patients

October is Blindness Awareness Month and it’s the perfect time to reevaluate some of your accessibility practices. Approximately 12 million Americans over 40 are visually impaired, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 1 million are blind and 2 million have age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of low-vision and blindness among adults over 50. Additionally, studies have linked periodontal disease to retinal degeneration and certain oral bacteria to glaucoma

Not all visual impairments are obvious, so it’s important to offer options to your patients.

What you can do for your patients

Accessibility doesn’t necessarily mean big digital and office modifications. Being mindful of blind and low-vision patients and their needs can create a better dental experience for everyone involved. A little bit of awareness goes a long way in creating a safer and more dignified dental visit for your patient.

  • Need to remind a patient of an upcoming appointment? Text messages or email are often preferred methods. Paper reminders via mail are often not accessible for blind and low-vision patients.
  • During appointments, don’t assume that your patient is able to visually take in everything, such as X-rays. Verbally state any important information such as your name, what procedure you’re performing and anything else that should be known. Additionally, if you have to leave the room, let the patient know.
  • Tempting as it may be, guide dogs have an important job to do. If a patient arrives with a guide dog, understand that by petting it or offering treats, you may be interfering with it helping its owner. Always ask before approaching.
  • Even the simplest webpages can have coding that’s difficult for magnification and screen reader users. Make your website easier to use for blind and low-vision patients by using alt-text for images, being thoughtful with colors and choosing descriptive phrases for linking.
  • If you need to prescribe any medication to your patients, talk to them about how often they should take it and anything else they should know. Often times, side effects and other crucial information can be printed quite small.

Resources from Delta Dental

When your patients need a little extra help with their benefits, Delta Dental is here to help.

  • For any questions about their coverage, members can simply call 866-530-9675 and speak to a customer service representative.
  • Written materials, such as plan information, can be translated to Braille or audio for blind and low-vision patients. Contact customer service to request material translations.

All patients deserve equal care and dignity when receiving it. For more tips and resources, visit the American Foundation for the Blind.

Oral health resources for Spanish-speaking patients

As a dentist, you already know that language should never be a barrier to receiving proper care. One in seven people in the U.S. speaks Spanish at home, yet Hispanic adults with limited proficiency in English receive about one-third less health care than those proficient in English.

In taking steps to bridge this gap, Delta Dental offers a variety of language assistance options for both you and your Spanish-speaking patients.

Resources for the dental office

  • An English-to-Spanish phrase guide is easy to download and print. Keep this handy guide at your workstation for quick reminder on common questions and phrases that may arise during a dental appointment. The guide even includes pronunciation tips to help you communicate as efficiently as possible.
  • The Delta Dental online dentist directory includes languages spoken in the office. Keeping your office’s listing accurate and up to date helps Spanish-speaking members find the right dentist to fit their needs.
  • Interpretation services are also available for in-person dental appointments when a Spanish-speaking staff member isn’t an option. Letting your staff know about this service is a great way to proactively assist patients with limited English. To request this service, members should contact Customer Service at least 72 hours in advance of an appointment.

Resources for your patients

  • Our website, and all its offerings, can be found in Spanish. This includes plan information, wellness articles and even Grin! magazine and is a perfect introduction to Delta Dental for new patients.
  • Customer Service is available in Spanish when patients have questions about their insurance that you’re unable to answer. To talk to a representative, members can call 866-530-9675 and dial 8 when prompted. Answers to our most frequently asked questions are also available on our website.

Learn more about Delta Dental’s language assistance resources for dentists and how they can benefit your patients.

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