BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: Research that has repeatedly documented marked racial/ethnic disparities in US children’s receipt of dental care at single time points or brief periods has lacked a historical policy perspective, which provides insight into how these disparities have evolved over time. Our objective was to examine the im-pact of national health policies on African American and white children’s receipt of dental care from 1964 to 2010.
METHODS: We analyzed data on race and dental care utilization for children aged 2 to 17 years from the 1964, 1976, 1989, 1999, and 2010 National Health Interview Survey. Dependent variables were as follows: child’s receipt of a dental visit in the previous 12 months and child’s history of never having had a dental visit. Primary independent variable was race (African American/white). We calculated sample prevalences, and χ(2) tests compared African American/white prevalences by year. We age-standardized estimates to the 2000 US Census.
RESULTS: The percentage of African American and white children in the United States without a dental visit in the previous 12 months declined significantly from 52.4% in 1964 to 21.7% in 2010, whereas the percentage of children who had never had a dental visit declined significantly (P < .01) from 33.6% to 10.6%. Pronounced African American/white disparities in children’s dental utilization rates, whereas large and statistically significant in 1964, attenuated and became nonsignificant by 2010.
CONCLUSIONS: We demonstrate a dramatic narrowing of African American/white disparities in 2 measures of children’s receipt of dental services from 1964 to 2010. Yet, much more needs to be done before persistent racial disparities in children’s oral health status are eliminated.