Transcultural dental training: addressing the oral health care needs of people from culturally diverse backgrounds


Rodrigo Mariño, Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre, University of Melbourne, Victoria, 3010 Australia

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Australia is a culturally and linguistically diverse country with a population derived from over 140 countries and including 240 language groups. Reflecting this, there has been a significant increase in cultural diversity among undergraduate dental students. It has been recognized that in order for dental students to interact and respond effectively to the diverse cultural needs of their patients, students themselves must be aware of cultural differences and respect patients’ worldviews. In response to this challenge, dental students will need to have the theoretical knowledge to understand culturally-influenced health behaviours as well as the ability to communicate effectively with culturally diverse patients. Currently, the culture of dental students contrasts with the patients they treat, which may in turn affect the interaction between dental students and their patients. Given this context, new graduates need both to effectively communicate with patients from diverse communities and have an understanding of culturally influenced health behaviours. It has been proposed that dental graduates need to improve their knowledge of a variety of cultural values, beliefs, practices and attitudes. The literature in the area of cultural awareness and education for oral health professionals concentrates on both exploring health professionals’ knowledge and attitudes toward transcultural care or the need for transcultural training. This paper provides an overview of the transcultural issues in oral health care which might confront dental students when treating culturally diverse patients. It will also discuss possible modifications to the dental curriculum to ensure that the future oral health workforce understands the complex health care needs of a multicultural society. This information will give planners and stakeholders an insight into the nature of the cultural issues which future dentists are likely to encounter while treating patients from diverse cultural backgrounds. This would help to establish the need to incorporate transcultural awareness modules to enhance quality of care and to respond effectively and sensitively to cultural issues.