Dr. Anderson Gives TEDx Talk on Preventing Racism

  • by AGD Staff
  • May 22, 2023
5-22-23_MemberSpotlight_AThe phrase “dentists wear many hats” is almost a cliché at this point. Clinician, businessperson, staff manager and community leader are all common hats that dentists wear professionally — in addition to the roles they take on within their personal lives. Monica F. Anderson, DDS, has worn all the standard hats of a successful dental career but has also added the roles of nonprofit founder, speaker, restaurateur, real estate investor, cable TV producer/host, bestselling author, podcast host and cancer survivor. The most recent new hat she’s picked up? TEDx speaker. In November 2022, she presented “What Dentistry Teaches Us About Curbing Racism” at TEDxOshkosh in Wisconsin. 

In her talk, Anderson describes having the following revelation after an incident that occurred during her time in dental school, when the mother of an adult patient she was treating made a racist comment about her, right in front of her: “Racism is not just antagonism against another because of their racial or ethnic group; it is a disease, like tooth decay. Racism is contagious, like tooth decay. Racism is a contagious social cancer, and it is deadly when left untreated. … We need a new approach to curbing racism, and what we practice in dentistry offers a guide.” 

She shared with AGD Impact how she became a TEDx speaker, her thoughts on how the dental community is addressing discrimination within the profession, and details about some of her other pursuits. 

AGD Impact: How did you become a TEDx speaker? Have you presented your talk at any dental meetings? 
Anderson: I have been a professional speaker for about three decades. I primarily speak to civic, academic and corporate groups. I have also spoken at several dental conferences, component meetings and study clubs on communication and dental benefits. For the past few years, several people who heard me speak suggested I apply to become a TED or TEDx speaker. I decided to develop this idea based on my personal experience. I submitted it to several organizers and was selected to audition for TEDxOshkosh. 

What are the parallels between how dentists and governments have addressed dental decay and how racism can be treated within our society? 
Though the modes of transmission are different, dental decay and racism are both contagious and deadly if left untreated. Both diseases progress silently and are almost invisible. We notice both when they cause pain. Prevention is the key. In my talk, I give the example of Grand Rapids, Michigan, becoming the first U.S. city to fluoridate its public water supply in 1945. They did it to curb the rampant decay among school-aged children. There was a public outcry, but the city leaders believed it was a public health issue that needed to be addressed. The success of the initiative was swift, and now fluoridated water is common in most municipalities. Additionally, we teach oral hygiene and encourage regular dental visits starting at a young age. We know this greatly decreases childhood caries. Governments have addressed racism with legislation, mandates and judicial rulings. These actions help address behaviors, but most of these efforts impact us as adults, when our opinions of people unlike us have already been formed. We call these programs “systemic changes,” but at this point they are more like topical anesthetics, temporarily numbing us to the growing pain from the disease beneath our skin. We need early, ongoing, age-appropriate education about bias in its many forms. 

How can dentists as healthcare providers help address systemic racism in their communities and their practices? What about within the profession and its organizations and structures? 
We have a lot of diversity within the profession now. I’ve seen dramatic changes in my 33 years as a dentist. We have more women, more nationalities and more people of color represented. I am a graduate of the American Dental Association’s (ADA’s) Institute for Diversity in Leadership. I also love what AGD and other organizations are doing to promote diversity. We must continue that trend, whether we’re planning speakers for a conference or electing leadership. Diversity leads to better decision-making and better outcomes. Dentists as healthcare providers can lead by example. If we each take responsibility for creating a nonracist environment wherever we are, we will become an army for equity.

Tell us about your nonprofit, Drop the Drugs™. What inspired you to start this organization? 
Drop the Drugs began as my project for the ADA’s Institute for Diversity in Leadership. I recall sketching it out at the ADA headquarters in Chicago as my classmates worked through the curriculum. I had read an article that mentioned year-round drug drop-off sites at local hospitals, pharmacies and police stations across the country. I had never heard of such a thing. I only knew about the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA’s) National Prescription Drug Take Back Day (deatakeback.com), which occurs annually in April and October. I thought about all the unused, expired and unneeded drugs kept in homes for years, leading to addiction, accidental poisoning and overdoses. 

I felt that raising awareness of the ability to dispose of drugs year-round would help the public. I partnered with the DEA and police department in my hometown, Grand Prairie, Texas. In the first year, the takeback tripled just from us educating the public through community outreach. We’ve continued our efforts, and it’s going well. We are now a 501(c)3 public charity, and the support we’ve gotten is quite incredible. You can read more about us at dropthedrugs.org

What does being a leader within the profession of dentistry look like to you? 
There are so many moving pieces; it’s like being inside a Swiss watch! I’ll keep it simple — we have to stay current on more than materials and techniques. We need to know what the public thinks. We need to be in the community as active participants outside of the office. Access to care begins with being accessible as individuals. That’s what brought me into the profession — meeting a local dentist in Fort Worth, who is still my friend and mentor. 

As a multitalented professional, what advice do you have for young dentists on how to identify their strengths and talents and use them to effect change within the profession and society? 
Don’t sell yourself short. You have all the skills you need to do anything. Dentists are organized, detail-oriented, good communicators and — generally — reliable. Join an organization, get on a committee, speak, listen, and learn. The things you learn and the people you work with in organized dentistry will make your entire life better. 

Anderson’s TEDxOshkosh talk can be viewed at YouTube or through her website, drmoeanderson.com.