A look at dental disparities in the US

September 18, 2015


Everyone faces different challenges when it comes to oral care. Some children need braces for years, for example, while others have perfectly straight teeth without the help of orthodontic tools. While different habits, lifestyles and genetic makeups create varying levels of oral health, one thing remains constant across the board: Everyone needs to practice proper daily oral care. Unfortunately, this privilege isn't available to everyone. Even with the ever-developing dental technology in the U.S., dental care disparities are profoundly apparent.

"Race, ethnicity and geographic location play into one's dental health."

An overview of the availability of dental health care
Those who are equipped with soft-bristled toothbrushes, fluoridated toothpaste, floss and fluoridated water may not realize the advantages they have when it comes to tackling oral health. However, practicing a proper daily oral care routine and having the right tools for that job aren't the only things that contribute to the state of someone's dental health. Other influential elements include access to high-quality education, affordable and reliable transportation, culturally sensitive health care providers, health insurance, clean water and non-polluted air.1

The reasons for dental disparity go deeper than being able to get to the dentist. It starts with being educated on proper oral care and having the available resources to maintain overall health. Therefore, this dental health issue serve as a reflection of disparities in all areas of the U.S., from access to education to income levels. That means race, ethnicity, age, gender and geographic location all play into one's dental health.

Who's at risk
Compared to any other racial or ethnic group in the U.S., non-Hispanic blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and Alaska Natives typically have the poorest oral health.2 A study published in The Journal of the American Dental Association revealed that, when compared to non-Hispanic whites, other racial and ethnic groups did not receive as many annual dental exams overall, which may contribute to their reduced level of oral health.3 Additionally, those with disabilities were significantly less likely to receive professional oral care and more likely to face delays in receiving care.

Why is erasing disparities so important?
Everyone, regardless of his or her cultural, racial or ethnic background or disability, needs proper oral care because it leads to more than a clean smile. Your dental health has an effect on your overall well-being. In fact, gum disease, an ailment that can be prevented with a daily oral care regimen, causes men to be 49 percent more likely to develop kidney cancer, 54 percent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer and 30 percent more likely to develop blood cancers.4 Additionally, the bacteria that grows in the oral cavity from gum disease can easily travel to the lungs and lead to severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia.

Furthermore, poor oral health has a ricochet effect on your teeth - one problem just leads to another. For example, not regularly cleaning your teeth doesn't just lead to bad breath and poor oral hygiene, it can also lead to gum disease. Additionally, misaligned teeth - which could potentially be corrected with orthodontic tools such as braces or a retainer - are hard to clean, and could also lead to periodontal disease.5 If left untreated, they could progress into something harder or even impossible to correct. That's why your dental care plan needs to be controlled by a daily regiment rather than a once-in-a-while treatment.

Visiting the dentist provides benefits for your whole well-being.
Visiting the dentist provides benefits for your whole well-being.

For those who face disparities in dental health care, that may not always be possible. Therefore, erasing dental disparities isn't just about giving everyone a straight, pearly white smile. It's about protecting their overall well-being.

It's vital for the perception of oral health to change. Many U.S. adults see visiting the dentist as a chore to be done twice a year. Sufficient dental health education is necessary for everyone to understand the importance their mouth has to their overall health. For example, why would people pay hundreds of dollars to go to the dentist uninsured if they think their oral health is only a cosmetic issue? On the other hand, if they knew that poor hygiene could lead to serious systemic diseases, maybe they'd be more proactive about finding affordable dental care.

It's the role of both dentists and their patients to take action against these disparities. Low cost dental care options, such as a dental discount card, are one such solution. For one low monthly payment, patients have access to a system of trusted dental health professionals who can provide discounted services for anything from a standard cleaning to a dental emergency.

It's crucial to remain educated on dental health in order to promote equality in oral care.


1. "Disparities," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/about/foundation-health-measures/Disparities

2. "Disparities in Oral Health," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/oral_health_disparities/index.htm

3. "Disparities in dental care associated with disability and race and ethnicity," Willi Horner-Johnson, PhD, Konrad Dobbertin, MPH, Erin Beilstein-Wedel, MA, The Journal of the American Dental Association. June 2015

4. "Gum disease and other systemic diseases," American Academy of Periodontology. https://www.perio.org/consumer/other-systemic-diseases

5. "Gum Disease," American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/g/gum-disease


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