In the United States, Hispanic children have the least healthy teeth, says a national survey.
The National Survey of Children's Health was done in 2003. It involved 77,773 children, ages 3 to 17.
Researchers from the Boston University Goldman School of Dental Medicine did the study. They looked at the survey's information on white, African-American, and Hispanic children. They found that about 23 of every 100 Hispanic children were described by their parents as having fair or poor oral health. About 12 of every 100 African-American children fit in this category, and about 7 of every 100 white children.
Hispanic children were least likely to have ever visited the dentist. Also, about one-third of Hispanic children had not had a check-up in the past year. About one-fourth of black children hadn't, and about one-sixth of white children hadn't.
Hispanic parents were more likely than other parents to believe that preventive dental care was not necessary. This care includes regular check-ups, fluoride treatments, and sealants. About 21% of Hispanic parents said they did not think it was necessary. About 16% of black parents and 10% of white parents thought so.
Poor dental health has been linked with poverty, low education levels, and language barriers. Hispanics are the most disadvantaged group of the three in terms of these factors. But even after researchers canceled out the effects of income and education, Hispanic children were still twice as likely as other children to have dental problems.
Researchers also considered whether parental beliefs on preventive care affected children's dental health. It did not seem to. Children whose parents thought check-ups were not necessary did not have more tooth problems than other children. The researchers say that this attitude was more common in lower-income families.
Among parents whose children needed dental care but didn't get it, more than half said it was because of cost or not having dental insurance.
The researchers say that dental health problems in children may be even more widespread than reported in this study. Parents may underreport their children's dental problems. A 2004 study found that only about one-third of children who needed fillings had parents who knew they needed treatment.