Children and diversity
“Mommy, why do my friends at school keep asking me if I was born in China?”
“What did you tell them?”
“That I was born in Boston.”
“That’s right. Why do you think they asked you that?”
“I don’t know. They said it’s because I have black hair so I must be from China, but that doesn’t make sense because other kids have black hair and they’re not born in China.”
“That’s a great observation. Maybe your friends don’t know and you just have to teach them.”
This was a conversation that I didn’t think would take place so soon between my six-year-old son and me at the time. I guess I should not be surprised since we live in a mostly “homogenous” part of Birmingham but what took me by surprise was how early we would have to address the question of self-identity. So for the next 5 minutes, my husband and I quizzed our boys on where they were born and reinforced the fact that as God’s children, we are all uniquely created.
Our conversation made me think of that BBC One video that I came across on YouTube not too long ago whereby pairs of children were asked: “What makes you two different from each other?” The striking thing was that even though the children in each pair have obvious differences in their outward appearances based on race, gender, physical ability and so on, none of their answers spoke of these stark differences. In fact, most of their responses focused on food preferences (she likes tomato sauce but I don’t), where they live (he lives up the hill, and I live down the hill; he lives in a house with squirrels in the roof, but we don’t have squirrels in our roof), personality differences (she talks a lot, and I’m quieter), hobbies (she likes gymnastics, but I like to swim), and even the most mundane thing like differences in toe sizes. THIS is how children see each other in the purest and most innocent form. Most of the time, it’s not until adults start to interject with our jaded views of the world that children start to categorize people based on race or ethnicity and focus more on how they appear to others. However, unlike adults, kids are kids, and their questions are innocent. I would argue that they are just curious, and when they are not surrounded by diverse individuals, they honestly just want to know.
The vision of Liberty Park Children’s Dentistry
Even though my practice is located in Liberty Park, my vision has always been to make it a welcoming place for all children and their families with diversity in race, socioeconomic status, religious practices, family structure, and more. Interestingly, there are dental patterns correlating to different ethnic groups. For example, Asians tend to have what we call “shovel-shaped” incisors and dark stains due to our diet of leafy green vegetables; African-Americans tend to have denser bone which may make some extractions more difficult; Hispanics tend to have shorter blunted root tips on their incisors. However, despite all of these generalized differences, that pesky sugarbug S. mutans does not discriminate. How we can maintain good oral health through brushing and flossing and how we can prevent cavities are universal.
Just like the conversation between my son and his friends, a lot of parents simply do not know that there are certain things they are doing at home are contributing to their child’s caries risk. Likewise, just like the children in the BBC One video taught us, we all have to dig deeper so with each of my patient, I try my best to:
- Learn about the family’s practices with regards to diet, oral health habits, etc.
- Understand what is important to them and differentiate that with things that can be compromised.
- Withhold judgment.
- Educate the parent and child.
- Come up with a feasible plan together with the parent to implement changes to improve the oral health status of the child.
Teeth are teeth, and how we take care of them or treat them do not vary much. However, each patient is a unique person with different food preferences, oral health habits, cultural influences, physical/financial/mental limitations, and beliefs. How we approach and treat each person makes a whole world of difference from a simple greeting in their native tongue, noise cancelling headphones for a child on the autism spectrum, eye contact with the child with cerebral palsy, to a quiet and safe space for a parent to pray. Most if not all of us in this field have received some form of cultural competency training, and slowly but surely, my dental and medical colleagues are offering more inclusive practices to improve care for all of our patients.
It is a wonderful gift to be in the position to make my patients and their families feel cared for. I am thankful for what I get to do at Liberty Park Children’s Dentistry.
This post was written by Dr. Quyen Ying, the pediatric dentist behind Liberty Park Children’s Dentistry.