In a new study, a faculty member and an alumna of the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health examined racial and ethnic disparities in dental caries, commonly known as “cavities,” among kindergarten students in North Carolina as well as the cross-level effects between students’ race and ethnicity and their school’s poverty status.
[Photo: A UNC study concluded that racial and ethnic oral health disparities exist among kindergarten students in N.C. regardless of school poverty status. Furthermore, disparities in caries between white and African-American students are larger in non-poor schools than in poor schools. Photo courtesy of University of Michigan Dentistry.]
The study authors were Mr. Go Matsuo, alumnus of the N.C. Dental Public Health Residency Program in the Division of Public Health’s Oral Health Section, Dr. Gary R. Rozier, professor of health policy and management at UNC, and Dr. Ashley M. Kranz, alumna of the UNC’s Department of health policy and management.
The research team examined data about more than 70,000 students from more than 1,000 schools across 95 N.C. counties. They found that the average prevalence of dental caries was 30.4 percent for white students, 39 percent for African-American students and 51.7 percent for Hispanic students.
The team also learned that the difference in caries experience between African-American and white students was significantly greater in schools with National School Lunch Program participation of less than 75 percent.
Thus, the study concludes that racial and ethnic oral health disparities exist among kindergarten students in N.C. regardless of school poverty status. Furthermore, disparities in caries between white and African-American students are larger in non-poor schools than in poor schools.
“By the time children are in kindergarten in North Carolina, tooth decay is well established, as are racial, ethnic and economic disparities,” said Dr. Rozier. “We find it to be the most common chronic disease of childhood, and its resolution will require equitable, systems-based interventions starting soon after birth.”
The full article, titled “Dental Caries: Racial and Ethnic Disparities Among North Carolina Kindergarten Students,” was published online Oct. 15 by the American Journal of Public Health.