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Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month through dental care, education

Monthlong holiday observed Sept. 15-Oct. 15

September 30, 2021

By Kimber Solana

Photo of HDA event
Celebration: Hispanic Dental Association volunteers host a Sept. 24 health fair, in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, at the Puentes de Salud health center to provide dental care to the underserved communities in south Philadelphia.

In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, the Hispanic Dental Association is encouraging all dentists — including ADA members — to observe the annual celebration held Sept. 15-Oct. 15 by providing dental care and education to Hispanic and underserved communities.
   
Fittingly called Nuestra Sonrisa Hispana – or My Hispanic Smile, the HDA this year is hosting a contest among its Association and dental student members to inspire them to share and distribute Spanish oral health literacy information, participate in health fairs and host free dental day in their offices.
   
Hispanic Heritage Month was first observed in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded to 31 days by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. President Reagan kept the Sept. 15 date to coincide with national independence days of several Latin American countries. Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the contributions that Hispanic Americans continue to make to the culture and society.

“As the first Cuban-American president of the ADA, I know firsthand how Hispanic dentists are making an immeasurable difference in our profession as clinicians, educators, and researchers,” said ADA President-elect Cesar R. Sabates, D.D.S. “The percentage of Hispanic dentists in the United States has grown over the last several years, and many of them further advance public health by providing care to underserved populations.”
   


While Nuestra Sonrisa Hispana is only open to HDA members, organizers say all dentists can do their part in improving the oral health in the Hispanic communities, not just during Hispanic Heritage Month.
   
“We really should be celebrating this throughout the year,” said Gilberto Rios, HDA operations manager. “There have been improvements in pediatric care outcomes among Hispanic children, but Hispanic adults and seniors continue to have challenges.”
   
According to the ADA Health Policy Institute, 27.8% and 31.8% of Hispanic adults and seniors, respectively, visited a dentist in 2017-18, compared to 47.4% and 54.8% of white adults and seniors; and 38.9% and 40.5% of Asians.
   
Top barriers to achieving better oral health among Hispanics include oral health literacy, high cost or lack of access to affordable care and insurance, and language/culture differences, according to a 2011 HDA survey — results of which continue to be relevant today, Mr. Rios said.
   
It’s the reason that as part of Nuestra Sonrisa Hispana, the HDA is encourage dentists to share its Spanish Oral Health Literacy video in their communities, distribute free National Institutes of Health oral health patient brochures and participate in a health fair to provide dental care and dental education.
   
On Sept. 24, the HDA held a health fair, in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, at the Puentes de Salud health center to provide dental care to the underserved communities in south Philadelphia, including migrants, refugees and those without dental insurance. Puentes de Salud, or Bridges of Health, is a nonprofit organization that promotes the health wellness of Philadelphia’s rapidly growing Latinx immigrant population through providing health care, educational programs and community building.
   
About 40 dentists and student members of the HDA participated in the oral health fair that included oral health screenings, health literacy and a visit to a local elementary school. NIH’s Spanish-language oral health education informational pamphlets and dental kits from Colgate were distributed to parents.
   
Photo of HDA event
Education: Volunteers hand out Spanish-language oral health education information pamphlets to parents during the Sept. 24 oral health fair in Philadelphia. 
The HDA has also continued its award-winning “Building Our Leaders in Dentistry,” or “BOLD” program, which provides mentorship to pre-dental students and helps inspire high school and college students to explore and consider dentistry as a career. HDA President Rosa Chaviano Moran, D.M.D., said that while Hispanics represent about 20% of the U.S. population, only about 7% of US dentists are Hispanic.
   
“It’s not about ensuring only Hispanic dentists see Hispanic patients,” Dr. Chaviano Moran added. Instead, the HDA encourages all dentists to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by taking cultural sensitivity courses to better understand the particular needs of specific groups, including Hispanic patients.
   
For example, dentists can learn that it’s common for Hispanics to visit the dentist as a family. And dentists need to be sensitive of a specific ethnic group or culture’s diet.
   
“There are nuances that can make a big difference when talking with our patients,” said Dr. Chaviano Moran.
   
The HDA and ADA have also collaborated on projects through the Diversity Summit Presidents’ Group, most recently with the Sept. 15 webinar on “Assessing Systemic Racism in Dentistry and Building the Right Treatment Plan: A Call to Action.” The webinar explored issues that arise for dentists in a moment of global mobilization toward racial equity and inclusion.

“The ADA is proud to work with groups like the Hispanic Dental Association as part of our effort to embrace diversity, drive inclusion, and support everyone who comprises what I consider our dental family,” Dr. Sabates said.

To learn more about National Heritage Month, visit archives.gov.