The researches find that the disparities in dental visits for U.S. adults by race and country of birth; with immigrants and racial and ethnic minorities less likely to access care. Oral health is increasingly recognized as an essential part of healthy aging. It is closely related to overall health status and quality of life, and regular dental checkups can prevent oral diseases and maintain good oral health. However, regularly seeing a dentist is a challenge for many Americans; especially older adults, racial and ethnic minorities, and immigrant populations.

Part of healthy aging

Older adults face barriers such as a lack of access to quality dental care; awareness of the importance of oral health; and dental insurance coverage. Medicare does not cover most dental care; and only 12% of Medicare beneficiaries report having at least some dental insurance from another source to help pay dental expenses. But These roadblocks to dental care increase for racial and ethnic minorities and immigrants; who may experience racial discrimination and language barriers in healthcare settings.

“To promote oral health and close racial and ethnic gaps in oral health disparities; seeing a dentist regularly is critical;” said Wei Zhang, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa and the study’s first author. “Failure to engage in preventive dental care may lead to serious consequences such as tooth decay, pain, tooth loss; and inflammation.”

Close racial and ethnic gaps

In this study, the researchers examined how often people see a dentist as they age, focusing on U.S. adults 51 years and older, and explored variations by race and country of birth. While previous studies have looked at recent trends of dental care utilization among adults in the U.S., this study extends these efforts by using longitudinal data to focus on middle-aged and older adults across an extended period of time.

The researchers used data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS); a longitudinal study from the University of Michigan that conducts interviews with a national sample of middle-aged and older adults. They analyzed rates of dental care utilization measured by whether someone had seen a dentist in the past two years—for 20,488 study participants of different races and ethnicities, including 17,661 U.S.-born and 2,827 foreign-born individuals.

Adults and immigrants shrunk

Seventy percent of adults had visited a dentist in the past two years, but this rate decreased significantly beginning around age 80. U.S.-born adults of all races and ethnicities were more likely to see a dentist (71 percent) than immigrants (62 percent). Interestingly; the gap in care between U.S.-born adults and immigrants shrunk as people aged; suggesting that age and acculturation may play a role in decreasing oral health disparities over time.