OBJECTIVES: To assess the relationship between neighborhood effects and the severity of dental caries among low-income African-Americans.
METHODS: A multistage probability sample of African-American families living in the poorest 39 census tracts in Detroit was drawn. During 2002-03, cross-sectional data of a cohort that includes 1021 caregivers were collected in the first of three waves of interviews and examinations. Multilevel analyses focused on 27 neighborhood clusters and involved a combination of individual (Level-1) and neighborhood (Level-2) data including census and geocoded (address matching to census geographic areas) information.
RESULTS: There is significant variation in the severity of caries between low-income neighborhood clusters. Caries severity decreases with a higher number of churches, while it increases with a higher number of grocery stores in the clusters after accounting for individual characteristics. Only 14% of the inter-individual variability in caries was explained by classical individual risk factors for this condition.
CONCLUSION: Neighborhoods contribute something unique to caregivers’ oral health, beyond socioeconomic position and individual risk factors. Multilevel interventions are necessary to reduce disparities among African-Americans and churches may offer a promising venue from which to conduct them.