New analysis presents more nuanced view of oral health among Hispanic population

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health and the author of "Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America." She can be reached at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Research has shown that U.S. Hispanics have poorer oral health than non-Hispanic whites. For example, untreated tooth decay is nearly twice as common among Hispanic primary school children than among non-Hispanic whites.

Only 19 percent of working-age Hispanic adults in America have all their teeth, compared to 35 percent of whites, according to the findings of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Yet disparities also exist among U.S. Hispanics and Latinos of different national backgrounds, a major new study finds.

“As oral health status is concerned, Hispanics and Latinos in the United States are not a homogeneous group,” conclude the authors of the cover story in the June issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA).

Oral health indicators such as the number of decayed tooth surfaces, fillings and missing teeth vary significantly among groups, the research shows.

The authors of the report in JADA used data gleaned from the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, a multicenter epidemiological study funded by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Investigators conducted in-person examinations and interviews with over 16,000 Hispanic adults living in four U.S. cities to collect the data.

Their findings reveal a nuanced picture of oral health among America’s Hispanic and Latino groups. While more than half (57 percent) of study participants had at least one missing tooth, respondents of Cuban, Dominican, Central and South American backgrounds had the most missing teeth, while people of Mexican heritage had the least (49.8 percent).

Nearly 30 percent of respondents had at least one decayed tooth surface, but again, prevalence of decay varied widely, from 20.2 percent among Dominicans to 35.5 percent among Central Americans.

Dominicans, along with Puerto Ricans were more likely than those in other groups to say they could afford dental care. Overall, a third of participants worked full-time with people of Mexican and South American backgrounds being more likely to have full-time employment.

The authors of the JADA report “The Prevalence of Caries and Tooth Loss Among Participants in the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos” wrote that because of the large number of participants, the findings offer “the first useful estimates of oral health among Hispanics and Latinos in the United States according to their country or region of origin.”

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