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Study of minority New York City youth finds unequal burden of poor dental health

November 7, 2007 -- Hispanic youth report better dental health habits than their non-Hispanic peers, according to a study of northern Manhattan adolescents by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. The study, which is published in the November issue of the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, provides insight into the oral health of the diverse Hispanic community in America.

The study, a snapshot of more than 3,200 children ages 12 to 16, who live in the northern Manhattan communities of Central Harlem and Washington Heights/Inwood, found that 94 percent of the youth responding to the study were Hispanic or black. More then 2,300 of the respondents identified themselves as Hispanic, and the greatest number of the Hispanic adolescents was of Dominican descent. In most national studies of childrens oral health, the data on Hispanics largely reflects Mexican-American youth.

The study provides important information on the oral health for a Hispanic subgroup other than Mexican Americans, said Luisa N. Borrell, DDS, MPH, assistant professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health, and at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, and co-author of the study. Studies focusing on other Hispanic subgroups will help us understand the difference within the Hispanic population and underscore the need to examine health outcomes for each Hispanic subgroup whenever data is available, Dr. Borrell noted.

The study relied on questionnaires filled out by the youth and clinical exams performed during each childs visit to a school-based dental clinic. Researchers found cavities in 52 percent of the Hispanic participants and 54 percent of the black youth.

This study may help us define the oral health status of Hispanic subgroups other than Mexican Americans. We still have a lot to learn about what factors are protective for the oral health of these kids, and what will work to improve that health, observed Dr. Borrell.

Overall, dental health and health promoting habits of the Hispanic children were better than the other participants in the study. Ninety-four percent of Hispanic youths reported that they brush daily compared with 83 percent of blacks and 85 percent of the other children in the study. Hispanic youths were also more likely to floss.

Many more Hispanic youths reported having had a dental visit sometime in their lifetime. Researchers noted moderate-to-abundant plaque in 27 percent of the Hispanic adolescents, compared with 36 percent of blacks and other children in the study.

The studys findings need to be interpreted with caution as we did not have information on the education and income of the adolescent participants families. Also, we didnt know what proportion of these children were foreign born, which can be a protective effect for health, Dr. Borrell said.


Contact: Stephanie Berger
Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

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