The pandemic highlighted the racial disparities regarding healthcare, but new data from The Pew Charitable Trusts shows this also extends to oral healthcare. Per their analysis, “[t]he prevalence of treated and untreated tooth decay among American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Hispanic, and Black third-graders is considerably higher—and the use of dental sealants to prevent decay tends to be lower—than in their White classmates.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “[m]ore people are unable to afford dental care than other types of health care.” Given this lack of affordability, many Americans do not have dental insurance, which means they are forgoing preventative visits to the dentist, which allows problems to be spotted when they are more easily treated.
The Lancet published an article, “Racism and oral health inequities; An overview,” last year tackling this issue. The authors stated that “[r]acism impacts oral health in three main ways: (1) through the creation of inequitable access to oral health services and/or receipt of lower-quality care; (2) through psychological and physiological outcomes of those discriminated against that directly impacts oral health, for example, experiences of racism causing psychosocial stress, which impacts on oral health behaviors and ultimately clinical oral health outcomes and; (3) through the undermining of dental health service provider-patient relationships.” They further elaborated on the facilitation of structural racism via the selection and recruitment process of dental students, lack of cultural competency instruction, and food deserts, to name a few causes.
Pew also found that several states are not consistently collecting or reporting “important children’s oral health indicators by race and ethnicity,” which in turn contributes to the undermining of states’ abilities “to measure progress in advancing health equity.”
This isn’t the first time Pew has reported alarming facts such as the abovementioned—“[s]everal years earlier, Pew shared similarly troubling statistics showing that populations of color are more likely to experience tooth decay and loss and less likely to be able to visit a dentist and receive preventive treatments than White populations.”
Correcting these racial disparities with regard to oral hygiene is imperative because “[g]ood oral health is linked to long-term overall health and academic opportunity,” per The Children’s Partnership. In order to truly address the root of the problem, ultimately, “addressing racial disparity in dental care is much like addressing racial disparity across all types of healthcare, requiring a multipronged approach in order to break down complex systems and rebuild those that provide equitable care.”