Ensuring that your dental office is a friendly, relaxing, and welcoming environment has significant impact on your patients’ experience. According to a 2017 study by the Journal of Dental Hygiene, 19% of the population have moderate to high levels of dental anxiety. This is also true for LGBTQ patients. Providing LGBTQ-friendly dental care does not have to be hard. A few simple steps and awareness efforts will help make sure that all your patients, regardless of their background, feel comfortable in the office. 

Everyone who walks into your practice should receive the same care.
Figure 1: Ensure everyone who walks into your practice receives the same care.

Why Your LGBTQ Patients Face Barriers to Dental Care

We've seen the number of people who identify as LGBTQ double over the past decade. It's not that there are more LGBTQ people; it's just that they are more comfortable sharing this information. But for all that progress, we still have a long way to go.

As we dentists know, dental care is viewed as “optional” by many people even though it is critical for overall health. The fear of discrimination coupled with the idea that dental care is a low priority creates a barrier to care. While 71% of LGBTQ patients report regularly attending their dental appointments, 43% reported feeling uncomfortable, and 34% reported being treated unfairly due to their sexual orientation.

From a provider's perspective, there are quite a few things you can do to make sure that you are providing LGBTQ-friendly dental care.

LGBTQ patients should feel at ease in your dental practice.
Figure 2: LGBTQ patients should feel at ease in your dental practice.

How Providers Can Provide LGBTQ-Friendly Dental Care  

Your office probably has no history at all discriminating against LGBTQ patients. But prospective patients do not know that. They only know their lived experiences. Here is how you can build a foundation of trust before they even walk in the door.

Here are different ways you can do that:

Use gender-neutral language.

Throughout history, “he” has been used as a default. However, that practice has been recognized as outdated. Gender neutrality means changing “he” to “they.” Think of a common greeting, “hey, guys.” It is very innocuous, and most people will not have a problem if you use it. But that simple statement displays this idea that “male” is the default and everything besides that is “other.”

Gender-neutral language assumes that you are addressing a diverse group. It also does not assume a patient's gender. When you are meeting someone for the first time or you are reaching out to a group of individuals, try to make a point to use gender-neutral language. That will help you be more inclusive and avoid misgendering your patients.

If you need to know, ask.

Asking patients about their pronouns is another way to create an inclusive environment. Patients can choose to use any pronoun they feel comfortable with. Asking about pronouns can also help avoid misgendering and shows that the provider is respectful and knowledgeable about LGBTQ issues.

You can also introduce yourself using your pronouns. Even if you think it should be obvious, it helps us get out of this mindset that gender always presents stereotypically.

But ask yourself why you need to know.

When it comes to asking questions about a patient's LGBTQ status, make sure you are asking them for the right reasons. If you have a patient who is undergoing hormone treatment for gender transition, you need to know that because that treatment could affect their oral health and should be accounted for in any plans.

Questions about your patient's LGBTQ status should be based on that specific patient and their treatment plan.

Train staff on LGBTQ issues.

Just as adjusting your way of speaking and treating your patients will help LGBTQ patients feel more comfortable, encouraging your staff to do the same is an important step., There is a wide range of training materials available for you and your staff. The National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center offers free online courses and resources to help healthcare providers improve their LGBTQ+ cultural competency. The same is true for Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

A few simple steps can make your dental office more inviting.
Figure 3: A few simple steps can make your dental office more inviting.

Display LGBTQ-inclusive material.

Displaying pro-LGBTQ material in waiting rooms can help create an inclusive environment from the moment they enter. Providers can put up posters that feature LGBTQ icons or symbols. This shows that the provider is welcoming to LGBTQ patients and creates a safe and affirming environment.

Providing LGBTQ-friendly dental care does not require a major overhaul. It is about shifting your perspective. Instead of assuming genders, treating “he” as the default, and playing into stereotypes, you treat your patients as individuals. Take the opportunity to get to know them and understand them on a deeper level. That can help support LGBTQ health equity and help improve your overall patient experience.


Commenter's Profile Image Benjamin T.
June 2nd, 2023
Thank you for writing this article! 100% agree. I took a chance in my moderately conservative suburb several years ago posting a pride sign on our front door and sticking rainbow stickers to our hygiene bags and it was very well received. In fact we had several new patients join our practice because they saw the sign on our front door. Inclusion matters!