While the number of people who receive preventative dental care in the U.S. has increased in the last decade, a recent study reveals a disparity between ethnic groups in the reception of dental care, especially in Americans above middle age. This study is one of the largest and most comprehensive done on the subject of dental care among ethnicities and the findings are published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health.
It is important to follow good preventative dental care practices because failing to do so can lead to problems such as tooth decay, inflammation and gum disease. When a problem like gum disease does arise, neglecting to treat it can also increase the risk of even bigger health problems such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. People that are middle-aged and older are more susceptible to these conditions as well as their complications which makes oral health of particular importance to this age group. However until recently, there had been only a few studies done focusing on the oral health habits of Americans middle-aged and older.
A new study led by Professor Bei Wu, Director for International Research at Duke University’s School of Nursing, analyzes the self-reported dental care practices of nearly 650,000 Americans across five different ethnicities in the middle-aged and older age group. The data for this study was collected from a phone survey conducted by the National Center for Statistics and Prevention between 1998 and 2008 in which respondents were asked when they last had their teeth professionally cleaned as well as questions regarding their age, gender, marital status, income, education, ethnicity, and drinking and smoking habits. This is the first study to use this data to compare oral health practices between major ethnic groups.
The researchers found that all five ethnic groups (Caucasians, Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans) experienced slight yearly increases in the reception of preventative dental care but still as many as 43 percent of Americans, depending on ethnicity, were not receiving preventative dental care. The following are other key findings of this study:
- Americans with health insurance are over 100% more likely to receive preventative dental care
- Women are 33 percent more likely than men to receive preventative dental care
- Of those surveyed, 77 percent of Asian Americans, 76 percent of Caucasians, 62 percent of Hispanics, 62 percent of Native Americans, and 57 percent of African Americans reported receiving preventative dental care in 2008.
- Socioeconomic factors such as income, education, and health insurance account for the difference in access to dental care between Caucasians and other ethnic groups (except African Americans)
- Reduced access to preventative dental care among African Americans may be due in part to a lack of culturally competent dental care professionals
- Reduced access to preventative dental care among Native Americans on reservations may be due in part to low number of dental care professionals working for the Indian Health Services
- Smokers are less likely to receive preventative dental care even though smoking greatly increases oral health risks
The researchers believe that the reception of preventative dental health care can improve with more dental health programs targeted at Americans middle-aged and older, better dental care access for all ethnic and socioeconomic groups, and a more culturally competent workforce of dental care professionals.