What tooth decay tells us about poverty and race in America

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A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts has pinpointed yet another area of yawning racial disparity in America: dental care.

According to the nonprofit, blacks, both young and old, have double the rate of tooth decay as whites. Here's the chart, which also shows rates for Asians and Hispanics:

Pew Charitable Trust

"The nation’s dental care delivery system is failing to adequately support the oral health of all Americans," Pew says.

While half of all white children had visited a dentist in 2009, just about one-third of blacks and Hispanics had done so, Pew found. And only one-in-10 had received preventive dental services, like fluoride treatments or sealants.

Pew Charitable Trust

Pew ties these results directly to poverty, noting that only about one-third of U.S. dentists accept Medicaid, which is disproportionately utilized by minorities. Past reports have also tied the problem to the lack of minorities represented among dentists.


`It's like anything else in our society,'' Dr. Cynthia Hodge of the University of Connecticut's dentistry school said in 2006. ``They will treat more people that look like them than don't look like them.''

The World Health Organization has previously articulated the monumental impact of oral hygiene on an individual's quality of life.


"Oral health affects people physically and psychologically and influences how they grow, enjoy life, look, speak, chew, taste food and socialize, as well as their feelings of social well-being," it said.

Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.

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