OBJECTIVES: To examine racial/ethnic disparities in oral health among older Americans.
METHODS: Differences in frequency of edentulism and number of decayed, missing, and filled teeth were assessed in 2,679 non-Hispanic white, 742 non-Hispanic black, and 934 Mexican-American individuals aged 60 and older from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1999-2004).
RESULTS: Controlling for potential confounding variables, blacks and Mexican-Americans had significantly higher numbers of decayed teeth but fewer numbers of filled teeth than whites. Although blacks had a lower likelihood of being edentulous than whites, dentate blacks had a higher number of missing teeth. Compared with whites, Mexican-Americans were less likely to be edentulous, and dentate Mexican-Americans had fewer missing teeth. Our study also showed that blacks and Mexican-Americans had less frequent dental checkups than whites.
CONCLUSIONS: Oral health disparities are persistent across racial/ethnic groups for older Americans despite the fact that the differences between groups typically diminish when socioeconomic, health-related, and behavioral factors are considered in the models. Our study suggests that reducing racial/ethnic oral health disparities requires multiple clinical approaches.