Inclusivity in Dentistry – From the Field

inclusivity in dentistry

Where to Begin

The conversation about inclusivity in dentistry has been going on for years. Whether that is a conversation about diversity or accessibility for patients with disabilities, it stays relevant. Every patient deserves great oral healthcare. And, it is the job of the dental practice to find a way to create that inclusive space.

However, dental practices, whether they are specialists or GPs, often do not know where to start with inclusivity. Many teams will be hesitant because they want to get it right – starting can feel intimidating.

In this blog, we will look at two different examples of what inclusivity looks like in the dental industry, and how dental practices like yours can implement some of these ideas! Let’s dive in.

From Education: NYU Dentistry’s Oral Health Center for People with Disabilities

Often, educational institutions will lead the way with new innovations for dentists. NYU Dentistry’s Oral Health Center for People with Disabilities provides just such an example, recently profiled in Dental News.

At this facility, rooms are larger to accommodate patients’ caregivers. The center provides not just general dentistry, but also care in several dental specialties including orthodontics and oral maxillofacial surgery. It also provides dental care across the patient’s lifespan, from pediatric dentistry and up. In addition, students from the university do a rotation at the center, enabling them to carry forward relevant skills into their professional lives.

Providing comfort and accommodations for patients is paramount. At the center, some of these include:

  • Sensory Room: Created for calming patients, this room helps with relaxation and engages their senses. It features a bubble tube, quiet headphones, lights that change color, heavy blankets, stretchy body socks, and a big screen for projections.
  • Wheelchair-Friendly Dental Service: Patients can receive dental care while staying in their wheelchairs, eliminating the need to switch to a dental chair.
  • Bariatric Chairs: Dental chairs that can support patients weighing up to 650 pounds.
  • Private and Comfortable Rooms: Patients have their own rooms where they can relax with mood lighting, noise-reducing headphones, and tablets for entertainment.
  • Sedation Options: An expert anesthesiologist will check patients to figure out the best sedation level for patients based on their unique needs.

By taking into account different needs, the center prioritizes the emotional and physical safety of people with disabilities, allowing them to access the oral healthcare they need.

The Takeaway

Creating a center like this one requires an understanding of the many facets of disability, some of which are invisible. Obviously, an educational institution like NYU has a lot of resources to create a facility like that – so what is the takeaway for smaller dental practices and oral surgeries? 

It could simply be a matter of making small adjustments to your practice. For example:


  • Invest in some noise-cancelling headphones. This would make a huge difference for patients with sensory issues, blocking out challenging noises.
  • Offer different sedation options. Thoughtfully engage caregivers and patients to create a sedation plan that fits the patient’s needs.
  • If you have the resources, consider purchasing one dental accommodating dental chair. Whether that is a bariatric chair or wheelchair tilt, if you have the resources, consider if you might be able to have one chair at your practice that offers accessibility.
  • Training for staff. Staff, in any role, may not have never learned the skills to work with people with disabilities respectfully and knowledgeably. Find a training that will provide them with these skills.

With a little strategizing, dental practices and oral surgeries can thoughtfully create inclusivity in their spaces for patients with disabilities.

From the Corporate World: Dentsply Sirona on What it Means to be Socially Sustainable

In a recent article in Dentistry Today, dental manufacturer Dentsply Sirona spoke about how sustainability is a key idea for more than just the environment. This re-conception of sustainability includes a long-term, inclusive view of the dentistry industry. To quote Tony Johnson, SVP, Chief Supply Chain Officer: “Acting sustainably in this respect means building a diverse and inclusive industry for people of all backgrounds. It means providing care for marginalized groups, such as those living with disabilities or those who currently lack access to quality oral health care.”

Reframing sustainability in this way points to the foundation of the dental industry: that everyone deserves access to great oral healthcare. To ensure that that is a possibility, Dentsply Sirona recommends partnering with community organizations providing dental care to underprivileged communities. In addition, they also recommend adopting hiring policies that ensure you have a diverse team. It is important that when your patients come to your office, they feel safe and comfortable. A diverse team helps to inspire that feeling of safety, and as Johnson points out in Dentistry Today, that is “evidenced by numerous studies”.

By reframing how to create sustainable practices, this approach focuses not just on the environmental element, but on the human element, too.

The Takeaway

Chances are, someone is already doing great work in your community on inclusivity. It’s entirely possible that your team could connect with an organization that offers dental services to members of your community whocan’t afford them or can’t access dental insurance. Identifying what work is already being done in your community is a great start.

The good news about shifting hiring policies to be more inclusive is that this is not a new idea! A simple Google search will reveal hundreds of resources to guide you toward a diverse team.

Inclusivity is an Achievable Goal

In this blog, we have explored practical methods for fostering inclusivity within the dental sector, looking at examples of how it can manifest in everyday practice. Understanding that every patient is entitled to exceptional dental care, we each must acknowledge our responsibility as dental professionals to create an environment that caters to all.

It’s crucial to remember that the dialogue surrounding inclusivity—be it in terms of diversity or improving access for patients with disabilities—is an ongoing one, holding consistent relevance in our efforts to serve our communities better. By taking inspiration from the initiatives discussed, dental practices are empowered to take those vital steps towards creating a healthy space where everyone feels welcome.

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