African Americans receive poorer dental care than white Americans, even when they have some dental insurance coverage. To better understand why this is so, researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and the College of Dental Medicine, surveyed African American adults with recent oral health symptoms, including toothaches and gum disease. Their findings provide insights into why disparities persist even among those with dental insurance and suggest strategies to removing barriers to dental care.
The findings are published online ahead of print in the American Journal of Public Health.
The study is a qualitative survey of 118 men and women intercepted on the street in Central Harlem. Although the majority (75%) of adults in the study reported at least some type of dental insurance coverage, this was largely limited to Medicaid (50%) rather than private coverage (21%) or other types of dental insurance (4%).
The findings indicated that insured participants reported insurance-related difficulties, such as insufficient coverage for needed treatments, inability to find a dentist who accepts their insurance, and having to wait for coverage to take effect.
"For the 25% of respondents who reported having no dental insurance coverage, the costs of dental care and the lack of insurance coverage were consistently noted as critical barriers to obtaining quality dental treatment of their dental symptoms," said Eric Schrimshaw, PhD, assistant professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School, and first author. "Even among those who had some dental insurance such as Medicaid -- it was often not enough to eliminate the obstacles to obtaining needed dental treatment," noted Dr. Schrimshaw.
For instance, one 58-year-old man with a toothache described his difficulty paying for out-of-pocket costs despite having dental coverage. Consequently, he sought only emergency dental care during the 5 ye
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Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health