Disparities in Oral Health

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

Some social factors that can contribute to these differences are lifestyle behaviors such as tobacco use, frequency of alcohol use, and poor dietary choices. Just like they affect general health, these behaviors can affect oral. The economic factors that often relate to poor oral health include access to health services and an individual’s ability to get and keep dental insurance.

Vulnerable Populations

Some of the oral health disparities that exist include the following:

  • Overall. 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 24 years and aged 68 years is seen in Mexican American and black, non-Hispanic children.
  • Adults and Untreated Tooth Decay. Blacks, non-Hispanics, and Mexican Americans aged 3544 years experience untreated tooth decay nearly twice as much as white, non-Hispanics.
  • Tooth Decay and Education. Adults aged 3544 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 3544 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 5year survival rate is lower for oral pharyngeal (throat) cancers among black men than whites (36% versus 61%).

Note:  Be sure to visit the Oral Health in Massachusetts and Reports and Research – Oral Health Access pages to find out more about affected Massachusetts communities and populations.

Visit the following for more information on oral health disparities:

Related Links

The Office of Minority Health
Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?
Office of Minority Health & Health Disparities (CDC)

Page updated on 2/2014.