To compare oral health status by ethnicity and socioeconomic status among African American (AA), American Indian (AI), and white dentate and edentulous community-dwelling older adults.
Cross-sectional study; data from self-reports and oral examinations.
A multi-stage cluster sampling design was used to recruit 635 participants aged 60+ from rural North Carolina counties with substantial AA and AI populations.
Participants completed in-home interviews and oral examinations. Self-reported data included socio-demographic indicators, self-rated oral health status, and presence/absence of periodontal disease, bleeding gums, oral pain, dry mouth, and fit of prostheses. Oral examination data included number of teeth and numbers of anterior and posterior functional occlusal units.
Compared to whites, AAs and AIs had significantly lower incomes and educational attainment. Self-rated oral health was significantly higher in whites, compared to both AAs and AIs. Prevalence of self-reported periodontal disease and bleeding gums was lower in whites. Among dentate participants, AAs were significantly more likely than whites to have moderately reduced numbers of teeth (11–20 teeth) and posterior occlusal contacts. Oral health deficits remained associated with ethnicity when adjusted for socioeconomic variables.
Oral health disparities in older adults in a multi-ethnic rural area are largely associated with ethnicity and not socioeconomic status. Clinicians should be aware of these health disparities in oral health status and their possible role in disparities in chronic disease. Further research is necessary to understand whether these oral health disparities reflect current or lifetime access to care, diet, or attitudes toward oral health care.