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Racial Disparities Affect U.S. Children's Dental Health
September 26, 2012

By Nancy Volkers
InteliHealth News Service

INTELIHEALTH - Children of racial and ethnic minorities have poorer oral health than white children, a new study finds.

But other factors, such as family income and parents' education, accounted for some of that difference.

Seven groups of researchers from across the United States did the study. They used data from the 2007 National Children's Health Survey. The survey included 82,020 children between the ages of 2 and 17. Questions were answered by the adult in the family who knew most about the child's health.

Only 8.8% of the children were described as being in fair or poor oral health. However, the numbers differed by race and ethnic group. Fair or poor oral health was reported for:

  • 20.4% of Hispanic children
  • 9.8% of black children
  • 5.3% of multiracial children
  • 4.6% of white children
  • 10.2% other non-Hispanic children

The differences between white children and Hispanic or black children were too large to have occurred by chance.

Overall, 17.4% of the children had not had a preventive dental visit in the last year. They included:

  • 24.3% of Hispanic children
  • 18.4% of black children
  • 16.9% of multiracial children
  • 14.7% of white children
  • 18.1% other non-Hispanic children

The differences between white children and Hispanic or black children were too large to have occurred by chance.

Researchers also looked at whether families had to delay a child's dental care, or whether children did not get care they needed. About 3% of children fell into this category. There were no major differences among racial and ethnic groups.

Then, researchers took into account several factors that also can affect oral health and care. They included:

  • Family income
  • Parents' education level
  • Age and sex of the child
  • Whether the child had a regular doctor
  • Health insurance status
  • Language spoken at home
  • Family structure
  • Parents' physical health
  • Water fluoridation

This lessened the differences between groups. Some disappeared. But Hispanic and black children were still more likely than white children to have fair or poor oral health. Black children were still less likely to have had a preventive dental visit in the past year. However, they were less likely than white children to have delayed dental care or unmet dental needs.

The authors note that racial and ethnic differences in children's oral health are largely linked with factors such as health insurance and family income. They suggest that attempts to decrease differences focus on these factors.

They also note that parents' descriptions of their children's oral health may not always be accurate. For example, other studies have found that parents' reports about their teenagers' oral health are not as reliable as reports about the oral health of younger children. Parents of teenagers are more likely to report a teenager's oral health as poor, even if it is not. Also, parents who believe their own oral health is poor are more likely to report their children's oral health as poor.

The study appears in the September 13 online version of the Journal of Public Health Dentistry.

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