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Dental disparity gap disappearing between black and white kids

Jul 09, 2012

Racial disparities in children’s dental care appear to be lessening, according to a new study. The study looked at children ages 2 to 17 in national health surveys taken in 1964, 1976, 1989, 1999 and 2010.  By 2010 the disparity in dental access between blacks and whites was statistically insignificant, study authors said.

In 1964 60 percent of African-American children had never visited a dentist compared with 30 percent of white children. According to the study published July 2 and appearing in the August print issue of Pediatrics, that disparity had almost disappeared by 2010.

Dr. Inyang Isong, a pediatrics instructor at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital and the study’s lead author, says the gap was greatest among poor black children. She credits programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for narrowing the gap. “The good news is that African-American and white kids are accessing dental care at equal rates, but the bad news is that African-American kids still have higher rates of cavities,” Isong said.

The percentage of black and white children who had not seen a dentist in the past year dropped from about 52 percent in 1964 to 22 percent in 2010. Those who had never seen a dentist dropped from nearly 34 percent in 1964 to 11 percent in 2010.

Note: Earlier this year Dental Wire published a story noting that Native American children in the U.S. and Canada suffer from untreated cavities at three times the rate of other children.

Isong noted that other possible contributing factors to the disparity in cavities between black children and white children are diet, sugary drinks and the quality of dental care available to poor black children.

The study also looked at children’s dental visits based on their insurance situation and family income. More children with private insurance had visited a dentist recently than children on public insurance, but the gap has narrowed to just six percent (77 percent for children on public insurance compared with 83 percent on private insurance.)

The study found that in 1989, 47 percent of children living below poverty level had a recent dental visit and about 74 percent had ever visited a dentist. By 2010 those numbers had improved to 72 percent and 87 percent, respectively.

“These findings substantiate the powerful positive impact of public insurance programs, such as Medicaid and CHIP, that mandate dental services for poor and low-income children," said Dr. Burton Edelstein, president of the non-profit Children’s Dental Health Project and a professor of dentistry and of health policy and management at NYC’s Columbia University.

Most all childhood oral health problems are preventable and Edelstein said the findings should make society redouble its efforts to provide intensive preventive care for those children at greater risk.

Sources: HealthDay, Plan For Your Health,

Copyright 2012, Bloom Insurance Agency, LLC

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