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That diversity means to me.

The beauty of diversity is that it means something different to everyone. The world is a conglomeration of people from different cultures, that have different ideas and beliefs. That itself is what makes the world go round. However, it is in our nature to be fearful of the unknown. Too often, we approach the unfamiliar with apprehension.

Diversity to me is the embracement of everyone's unique story and way of life. It means being open-minded and open-hearted. Diversity goes beyond those things that cannot be changed like race, ethnicity and gender. In addition, religion, marital status, socioeconomic status, education, family types, military status, disabilities, health problems, learning styles and not just age but entire generational differences are elements to be considered. Diversity means not generalizing, categorizing or stereotyping. In essence, diversity is awareness.

We know that besides access to care, disparities in oral health care continue to exist. The factors contributing to these disparities go beyond financial reasons. The Surgeon General's report on oral health acknowledges that "lack of access can also be caused by fear and complex psychosocial or cultural assumptions."

According to a report published by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, "Racial and ethnic minorities would not be minorities by 2050," but "social, political, economic and cultural factors clearly underlie the complex social problem of inequality."

In the six years since having graduated hygiene school, I have seen a more diverse dental hygiene community. Within our dental professional community, I have also observed discrimination based on gender, age, educational level (or where education was received) as well as for having tattoos and even for speaking with an accent. These are conflicts that truly hinder our ability to create diversity awareness and live up to our obligations of our professional responsibilities. Social justice comes with our territory, to work together for the greater good of others. In order to address these issues, we must look at ourselves first and make sure we collaborate as professionals to address our social responsibilities. As dental hygiene professionals, we are expected to possess a special skill set, and enhancing our competence in diversity is to be included. Today, however, the superficial still continues to be something our society struggles to see past, and it creates roadblocks even amongst professionals.

Growing up in Lennox, a small city near the Los Angeles Airport where more than 90 percent of the population is Hispanic/Latino, I would say I was immersed in the Latino culture and did not realize it until we left our city for fieldtrips. Even then, when we returned, it was back to the usual multiple families living in a single home with no parking on the streets, cars parked on lawns, gang members patrolling their turf, but it was home. I grew up with a nuclear family that eventually ended up a blended family when my parents divorced and remarried. I learned at a very young age that life is certainly ever changing. It was a raw lesson in diversity, very close to home, but I am thankful for it taught me resilience and tolerance.

Fast forwarding, I became a statistic, pregnant at 16 and, furthermore, a victim to crime in Los Angeles and losing my son's father right before my eyes. With the odds against me, I refused to accept what I saw around me; teenage mothers dropping out of school and continuing down a narrow road with very dim lights. I was fortunate to have my family's support. The thought never crossed my mind that I would be unable to reach my goals; it motivated and pushed me even more. But let me tell you, being a Latina teenage mother, no matter if you are going down the right path, I felt like the world was and still is at times looking at me through a magnifying glass.

As I entered this dental hygiene profession, I reflected on my personal struggles, and I often wondered if they mattered. A part of me battled with how my past could be perceived and what that meant for the profession I now belong to and represent. Although no single event defined me, I came to understand that it absolutely is an advantage to have that life experience. Embracing what I once thought to be a disadvantage is what has proved to be the most useful gift--both in clinical dental hygiene and in working with my professional association. Being open-minded and open-hearted and learning about each other's own personal backgrounds will create a more tolerant culture, which I believe is instrumental in reaching out to our communities.

With the continual access to oral care problem, the American Dental Hygienists' Association has made strides in developing new workforce models. Hygienists are exploring nontraditional settings and are reaching out and treating populations that have not been in the mainstream of health care. Being able to connect with our patients on a more personal, intimate level, in their own communities, opens new frontiers not just to provide dental care but to be more inclusive of others. Learning about each other, beginning within our very own colleagues can be eye-opening and inspiring. When discussing diversity, political correctness comes to mind, and it reminds me that while the intent of being politically correct has been to prevent discrimination, it also has prevented us from addressing those things that make us different because we are so afraid to offend others. I believe that the more we talk about our differences, the more we will learn about new ways to work together and move forward in such a manner where we are no longer afraid. Illuminating those things we do not know about each other will break many barriers.

We are multidimensional, and although we as humans are all made up of the same building blocks on a cellular level, it is those abilities to critically think and our emotional capability that set us apart, not just apart from other species but apart from each other. As hygienists, we all share basic evidence-based common knowledge about treating and preventing oral disease, but again, the vehicle in which we present this exact message that will be different. We can all agree and acknowledge that diversity exists; however, I pose the question to you, are you taking an active role?

I share my story with you to remind us that what you see is not always what you expect and what you expect is not always what you will see. In the dental hygiene profession, my hope is that we continue to actively celebrate and embrace our diverse ways. It is all those things that make us unique that will bring us closer together and nearer our goals as a profession. Stepping back, analyzing and reflecting on our own stories will open new avenues in the way we communicate and interact with our communities and other professions. Be fearless, know and stay true to your roots, yet always continue to absorb those things that will nourish our souls and provide support to those in need. After all, we are all better together.

In the six years since having graduated hygiene school, I have seen a more diverse dental hygiene community.

By Jeannette Diaz, RDH, RDHAP

Jeannette Diaz, RDH, RDHAP, works full-time as registered dental hygienist with Kenneth Ferraro, DDS, and Kelly Hicklin, DDS, in Downey, Calif. Recently, she acquired the Registered Dental Hygienist in Alternative Practice licensure (RDHAP), with which she hopes to work with teens and be able to also provide dental care to patients with special needs. She is a 2007 graduate of Cerritos College Dental Hygiene program and will be starting a Master of Science Bridge program for Associate Degree Dental Hygienists through the Forsyth School of Dental Hygiene at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences this fall. A member of ADHA, she was a participant in ADHA's 2013 Unleashing Your Potential weekend. She has been involved with the California Dental Hygienists' Association, attending the House of Delegates. She is also very active within her local component as a past president for the Long Beach Dental Hygienists' Society and is currently serving as a trustee.
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Title Annotation:diversity
Author:Diaz, Jeannette
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2014
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