Oral Health Disparities – Nationally and Locally

Oral health disparities are profound in the United States. Despite major improvements in oral health for the population as a whole, oral health disparities exist for many racial and ethnic groups, by socioeconomic status, gender, age and geographic location.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Massachusetts Coalition for Oral Health, some of the oral health disparities that exist include:

  • “Overall Racial and Ethnic Disparity. Non-Hispanic Blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians and Alaska Natives generally have the poorest oral health of any racial and ethnic groups in the United States.
  • Children and Tooth Decay. The greatest racial and ethnic disparity among children aged 2–4 years and aged 6–8 years is seen in Mexican American and Black, non-Hispanic children.
  • Adults and Untreated Tooth Decay. Blacks, non-Hispanics, and Mexican Americans aged 35–44 years, experience untreated tooth decay nearly twice as much as White, non-Hispanics.
  • Tooth Decay and Education. Adults aged 35–44 years with less than a high school education experience untreated tooth decay nearly three times that of adults with at least some college education.
    • In addition, adults aged 35–44 years with less than a high school education experience destructive periodontal (gum) disease nearly three times that of adults with a least some college education.
  • Adults and Oral Cancer. The 5–year survival rate is lower for oral pharyngeal (throat) cancers among Black men than Whites (36% versus 61%).
  • Adults and Periodontitis. 47.2% of U.S. adults have some form of periodontal disease. In adults aged 65 and older, 70.1% have periodontal disease.
    • Periodontal Disease is higher in men than women, and greatest among Mexican Americans and Non-Hispanic Blacks, and those with less than a high school education.

Healthy People 2020 is the nation’s framework to improve the health of all Americans with the goals to increase quality and years of healthy life, and eliminate health disparities. More information about Healthy People 2020, the interventions, and other works to eliminate oral health disparities online:

The Status of Oral Disease in Massachusetts: A Great Unmet Need 2009, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, 2009

Improving Access to Oral Health Care for Vulnerable and Underserved Populations, The National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine, 2011

Disparities in Oral Health, Massachusetts Coalition for Oral Health, 2014

Disparities in Oral Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016

Disparities in Dental Health and Access to Care, Article, June 27, 2017, The PEW Charitable Trusts

Oral Health Disparities: A Perspective From the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, PMC U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, 2017

Healthy People 2020, HealthyPeople.gov, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion; view HP2020 Data for Oral Health

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