Key Concept: Cultural and Linguistic Competence

With the increasing diversity of people living in the United States, oral health programs’ prioritizing cultural and linguistic competence is important when delivering services to older adults. According to the National Center for Cultural Competence at Georgetown University, culturally competent organizations “have a defined set of values and principles, and demonstrate behaviors, attitudes, policies, and structures that enable them to work effectively cross-culturally.” Linguistically competent organizations “convey information in a manner that is easily understood by diverse groups including persons of limited English proficiency, those who have low literacy skills or are not literate, individuals with disabilities, and those who are deaf or hard of hearing.” Your organization should consider the following steps to work toward cultural and linguistic competence.

  • Use the findings from your community needs assessment, and determine how your organization should adapt the program to serve people from different cultures.
  • Engage diverse community organizations to obtain community survey data and to stay current on demographic and cultural trends.
  • Deliver cultural training to all staff, oral health care providers, and stakeholders involved in the program. Ensure that trainings and policies are outlined and reviewed regularly. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health offers an online course about providing culturally and linguistically appropriate oral health care.
  • Develop culturally relevant, easy-to-interpret, and accessible clinical and educational materials, such as oral health fact sheets and follow-up information.
  • Offer translation and interpretation services based on the needs of older adults in your community. Conduct routine satisfaction surveys among the clients that receive these services, and adjust the services accordingly to meet clients’ needs.
  • Practice use of culturally competent language, and understand best ways to communicate with people from different cultures. The National Center for Cultural Competence’s Checklist for Linguistic Competence (PDF) contains more information on this topic.
  • Conduct self-assessments of your staff’s cultural awareness and ability to provide culturally competent services. A few examples of self-assessments are listed below.