NIDCR highlights need to improve health inequities

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Healthcare professionals need to recognize and address disparities that lead to worse oral and overall health for some racial and ethnic populations, according to a January 25 meeting of the U.S. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) advisory council.

To reduce health disparities, including oral health inequities, scientists and healthcare professionals need to recognize and manage structural and interpersonal discrimination, said Dr. Eliseo Perez-Stable, director of the U.S. National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, during the webcast of the National Advisory Dental and Craniofacial Research Council meeting. Perez-Stable called for more research to understand and improve the health of racial and ethnic minority populations.

He pointed to numerous oral health disparities, such as racial and ethnic minority children and adolescents having higher rates of cavities than white children. Other pressing oral health disparities shared by Perez-Stable include the following:

  • More than 40% of low-income, Black, working-age adults have untreated tooth decay.
  • American Indian or Alaska Natives have the highest percentage of untreated tooth decay and gum disease among adults.
  • Black individuals who develop oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers have poorer survival than white individuals.

Perez-Stable also highlighted cost as a barrier to making dental care more accessible. Dental treatment can be expensive, and up to 30% of people in the U.S. lack dental insurance for more affordable preventative care, he said.

Perez-Stable called for a joint effort from scientists and healthcare professionals to recognize that oral health needs extend beyond dental insurance and treatment. Healthcare stakeholders must also engage community resources to improve access to real food and safe places.

"There needs to be safe places where people can walk and exercise and congregate and not be fearful of violence or violent conditions," he said.

He asked community organizations, scientists, and those in related fields to commit to an equal partnership that works to reduce social, economic, and systemic inequities that influence health behaviors and access to care.

The topic of health equity was part of a larger conversation about the need to promote oral health as an essential part of overall health. Healthcare, including oral healthcare, needs to be a focus of that conversation, Perez-Stable said.

"We need people to recognize the importance of health and not just healthcare," he said.

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