How can the gluten-free community better educate the public about the seriousness of our concerns when it comes to gluten?
I believe there are four key steps we can all take to increase awareness: education of friends and family, education of others with whom we come into contact, raising these issues in other contexts, and ensuring prompt and proper feedback and awareness if you are glutened.
1. Education of Friends and Family
The first and most important step we can take to ensure our future safety when it comes to gluten contamination is to educate those closest to us – our friends and family. These are the people with whom we have the most contact, and who are present at times in our lives when we are at risk for contamination (i.e., family dinners, celebratory meals and events, cocktails with friends, BBQs, brunches and weddings, to name just a few).
These individuals also have the biggest investment in our personal wellbeing, since they presumably love and care about us. That is not to say, however, that they are responsible for making sure we are safe; rather, they are our closest allies as we advocate on our own behalf.
Here, the first thing I did after realizing I had been glutened by my mouth guard was to let all my closest friends and family know. After listening to my story each of them took away new knowledge, which hopefully they will share with others at some point in the future.
2. Education of Others With Whom We Come in Contact
Our next line of defense is to educate other individuals with whom we come into contact. The degree of contact with these individuals may be regular (a waiter from your favorite restaurant) or it may be someone with whom you have limited contact or encounter only once (staff members at a catered affair you attend out of state).
Regardless of the duration or frequency of contact with these individuals, we can use everyday conversation as an opportunity to educate them about the seriousness of being glutened if you have celiac disease.
For example, when ordering something at a restaurant, coffee shop, or bar, after you take the time to explain how your food/drinks must be handled to avoid cross contact, you can take an extra moment or two to explain the repercussions if this is not handled correctly. You may even choose to tell these individuals that gluten is hiding in many places other than just food and drinks, and elaborate on how careful you must be to avoid becoming sick.
When we educate individuals about the seriousness of gluten contamination, they will each likely tell other individuals, who will in turn tell others, in exponential ripples. This is a powerful way in which we can protect one another and spread awareness and knowledge.
3. Raising These Issues in Other Contexts
Instead of limiting these conversations to locations where we are consuming or purchasing food and beverages, we should raise them in other situations and contexts as well. Consider the possible ripple effect if we talk about these issues at the dentist’s office, hair or nail salon, wellness spa, schools and other educational institutions, doctors’ offices (all specialties), entertainment venues, religious settings and community situations such as town hall meetings or local library events.
Each of us is equipped to speak about personal experiences, articles we have read, situations we have heard about from other members of our gluten-free community, and I truly believe we owe it to ourselves and each other to spread the ripple effect of information.
4. Ensuring Prompt and Proper Feedback and Awareness if You Are Glutened
If we end up getting sick from accidental gluten ingestion, we owe it to ourselves and each other to provide prompt and proper feedback to the source. If we track everything we consume and where it came from, we are better able to recognize the source of contamination. If we can determine the source of accidental ingestion, we can then contact the establishment (restaurant, bar, market, event venue, hair salon, dentist office, etc.), and explain the situation and our personal outcome. This enables the establishment to correct any bad or misleading practices, and helps to spread the ripple effect of information and awareness.
I feel confident that having learned of my story, my dentist and her staff will pay more attention in the future to the needs of patients with celiac disease. In fact, she recently informed me that she will be overhauling the products she uses in her entire office to ensure they are gluten free.
Dental/Orthodontic Exam Recommendations
Follow these suggestions to ensure you are safe at any future dental and/or orthodontic appointments.
- Communicate with your provider: Explain in depth about your health concerns and be ready to answer any questions your provider may have about celiac disease. Ask questions and voice any concerns you may have. Make sure your provider highlights your diagnosis and health concerns in your medical chart and remind your provider that you have celiac disease at the beginning of every visit.
- Be your own advocate: Request information about the laboratories and/or manufacturers they use for all products you come into contact with, so you can check ingredient safety yourself.
- Know your options: If you are unsure or uncomfortable with any ingredients used in your care, or about your provider’s understanding of your health concerns, you have the right to find another provider.
As members of the gluten-free community, we have the power to advocate for ourselves and one other. Speaking up, sharing information and personal stories, and spreading awareness and knowledge helps all of us to live on in wellness.