Oral Health Disparities

Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General states that oral health in the United States is rife with profound and consequential disparities within the population.1 Demographic information shows a correlation between oral health and socioeconomic status (SES), which is an individual’s comparative social and economic standing within a community. An individual’s SES affects the person’s access to dental care. Specifically, the lower the individual’s SES, the more frequent are untreated dental caries. Oral health disparities already exist within racial and ethnic minority populations, and with the projected growth in these populations, the disparities may become even greater.23-25

Tooth decay remains the single most common chronic disease in children. Untreated dental decay is twice as prevalent in children and adolescents living in poverty as in their peers from families with higher incomes.25

One indication the increased number of dental hygienists has resulted in dental disease prevention is evident in the aging population. Some theorize that because of the creation of the dental hygiene sciences, the number of people with teeth lasting a lifetime has increased. Older adults have more preventive and restorative dental care now than ever before and are also much more likely to see dental health as part of their own total health. Also, medical advances have allowed for longer life expectancies, resulting in the need for dental care for those who are living longer.18

As always in the United States, the population is changing. More and more individuals are living in low income household, and this will influence dental care delivery. This will undoubtedly have an effect on dental care utilization and public financing needs and should be considered when developing solutions in health systems.