Tuesday, December 30, 2008

First Language Predicts Dental Problems

U.S. families whose first language is not English are less likely to have dental insurance, a study has found. Children in these families also had more cavities and were more likely to go without fillings.

Researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas did the study. It was based on the National Survey of Childhood Health. This telephone survey was done in 2003 and 2004. It collected information from the parents of 102,353 children.

The researchers found that children in families with a first language other than English are more likely to be poor. Their parents are much less likely to have completed high school. More than 90% of parents in this group were not born in the United States.

The children also had poorer dental health and less access to dental services. In houses with a primary language other than English, more children:

  • Had teeth in "fair" or "poor" condition (27%, compared with 7% for children from mainly English-speaking homes)
  • Lacked dental insurance (39% vs. 20%)
  • Had never seen a dentist (19% vs. 13%)
  • Had seen a dentist before, but had no dental check-up in the last year (14% vs. 6%)
  • Did not receive needed dental care in the last year (7% vs. 3%)

Children did not get necessary dental care for several reasons. These included:

  • Problems with health insurance
  • Not being able to find a dentist
  • Seeing a dentist who did not know how to treat the child's problem

Latino children were about 4 times as likely as others to have untreated dental problems. Asian and Pacific Islander children were nearly 13 times as likely.

The researchers made some estimates based on their findings. They said that 3 million U.S. children from homes where English is not the first language have never seen a dentist. They said another 3.8 million have not seen a dentist in the last year.

The researchers took into account other factors that often are linked with poor dental health or problems getting dental care. Those include age, race, insurance coverage, education level of the parents and income. Even allowing for these factors, living in a non-English-speaking household still predicted dental health and access problems.

Researchers said that language and lack of insurance are not the only barriers to health care. Others include cultural issues, transportation problems and inconvenient clinic hours.

The study is published in the June issue of the journal Pediatrics.