Strengthening Indigenous cultural competence in dentistry and oral health education: Academic perspectives

Cathryn Forsyth, Michelle Irving, Stephanie Short, Marc Tennant, John Gilroy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: Indigenous Australians continue to experience significant oral health disparities, despite numerous closing-the-gap initiatives. Higher education institutions and accrediting bodies recognise the need to incorporate Indigenous culture more widely into dentistry curricula to address these inequalities. This study aimed to define and explore current Indigenous cultural competence curricula, identify enablers and barriers for integration of Indigenous cultural competence curricula and ascertain innovative strategies to aid students in becoming culturally competent upon graduation, from academics' perspectives.

Methods: Academics from the Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) and Bachelor of Oral Health (BOH) programmes at the University of Sydney, School of Dentistry participated in semi-structured interviews to define and explore current and future curricula practices to enable students to become competent in Indigenous culture. Thematic analysis was conducted to synthesise academics' responses.

Results: Thirteen School of Dentistry academics participated in interviews. Following analysis of the data, six key themes emerged: Theme One: Transfer of Indigenous cultural knowledge, Theme Two: Barriers to developing Indigenous cultural curriculum. Theme Three: Importance of cultural immersion, Theme Four: Resources required for Indigenous cultural education, Theme Five: Proposed Indigenous cultural content, Theme Six: Strategies to incorporate Indigenous culture into curricula.

Conclusion: Improving Indigenous cultural competence amongst dentistry academics and students requires an educational and philosophical shift, incorporating the social determinants of health whilst maintaining the strengths of the biomedical foundations of dental care. It requires the inclusion of an informed history of Indigenous Australians, immersion within Indigenous communities and reflection upon these experiences, to facilitate culturally appropriate ways to improve the provision of dentistry and oral health for Indigenous peoples.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E37-E44
Number of pages8
JournalEuropean Journal of Dental Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


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