Oral Health: Racial Disparities in Children's Dental Visits Have Significantly Narrowed

Published Online: Friday, August 17, 2012

Updates on dental health for kids include a finding that tooth decay is more common in children with celiac disease,a warning about the use of dental composites in pediatric patients, and a look at racial disparities in dentist visits.

Racial disparities between African American and white children’s dental utilization rates have significantly decreased since 1964, according to data from the National Health Interview Survey on children aged 2 to 17 years from 1964, 1976, 1989, 1999, and 2010.

Due to the implementation of numerous national federal health initiatives focused on increasing access to care for children, the percentage of all children surveyed who had never had a dental visit decreased from nearly 34% in 1964 to approximately 11% in 2010. In addition, the percentage of children who did not have a dentist appointment in the previous 12 months declined from nearly 53% to nearly 22%.

Throughout the study period, changes in access to dental care were the greatest among children who were publicly insured or living beneath the poverty line. More African American children were eligible to enroll in these programs, the authors explained, so they benefitted most from the expansion of oral health coverage.

Despite improved access to dental services, researchers noticed that minority children were more likely than white children to seek symptomrelated care rather than diagnostic or preventive treatment. According to Medicaid guidelines, states are required to provide kids with dental screenings and treatments, but not all states comply.

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