Good oral health is essential to the general health of everyone, but a new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts indicates that dental care remains one of our country’s greatest unmet health needs, and that poverty and race are significant factors in dental health disparities among Americans.

Dental Health and Race

The Pew report, titled “Dental Health is Worse in Communities of Color,” is based on a review of available data from federal agencies and published studies, and its findings include that black Americans — both children and adults — are twice as likely as whites to have tooth decay.

The report focuses on four key areas of imbalance:

  • Children of color are less likely than whites to receive preventive care: In 2009, for example, approximately 50 percent of white youths from infancy through age 21 visited a dentist, compared with about 34 percent of black youths
  • Children of color are less likely to undergo preventive treatments, such as dental sealants: Dental sealants have proven effective in reducing tooth decay by up to 80 percent in the first two years after placement alone, but from 2011-12 44 percent of white children ages 6-11 had sealants compared with 31 percent of black and Asian children in the same age group
  • People of color are more likely to suffer untreated tooth decay: Lower rates of dental visits and preventive care are partly responsible for increased tooth decay, and blacks and Hispanics have approximately double the rate of untreated tooth decay of whites
  • Adults and seniors of color are more likely to lose teeth: One of the effects of insufficient preventive dental care and untreated tooth decay is tooth loss, and Asian, black and Hispanic adults are more likely to lose teeth due to decay or gum disease than their white peers; black seniors have the highest rate of complete tooth loss at nearly 30 percent, compared with 17 percent of white seniors

The research points to a need for greater across-the-board dental care, as well as improved awareness about the importance of preventive care to both your oral health and your overall health.

Tooth Decay and Poverty

The report points out that economic hardship is also a factor in dental care for many.

Minority communities are disproportionately affected by poverty, which creates additional hurdles in accessing dental care. Prior studies have shown that low-income children are less likely to receive preventive care and more likely to have untreated cavities, and that low-income seniors are more likely to suffer from untreated missing teeth.

A Pew analysis from 2015 states that more than 70 million adults and children rely on Medicaid, and that the service spent more than $500 million on dental-related emergency room visits in 2012. But many states do not include adult dental coverage in their Medicaid packages, and not all dentists accept Medicaid.

Tooth Decay and Your General Health

Tooth decay remains a major health concern in the United States. Nearly 20 percent of Americans between the ages of 5 and 19 have untreated cavities, and nearly 30 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 44 have untreated cavities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC further notes that almost 20 percent of children between 2 and 17 have not visited a dentist in the past year. Nearly 40 percent of Americans 18 and over have not visited a dentist in the past year.

The effects of tooth decay are not confined to our mouths. Without treatment, cavities can contribute to periodontal disease, a bacterial infection of the gums that can eventually lead to a heightened threat for systemic health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

At Smile Columbia Dentistry, our general dentistry services emphasize preventive care that will provide you a beautiful smile for life. If you live in the greater Columbia, SC, area and you’re due for a checkup or have been putting off the dental treatment you need, please call us today at (803) 781-9090 to schedule your appointment with one of our knowledgeable, compassionate dentists.