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NIDCR Adopts New Ways to Study Minority Oral Health

Did you know that more African Americans and Mexican Americans suffer from periodontal disease than whites? Are you aware that facial injury and the surgery involving its repair are more likely to leave severe scarring in African Americans than whites?

Minority oral and craniofacial health is of particular concern to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research because the burden of dental, oral and craniofacial diseases tends to fall disproportionately on the racially, ethnically and culturally diverse populations of our nation. Institute scientists know, for example, that untreated dental caries is much higher among racial and ethnic minority groups, and that only a very small proportion of minority children have dental sealants, which protect against decay. Economic factors seem to compound the problem, since fewer individuals from racial and ethnic minority groups have any kind of dental insurance, compared to the national average. This lack of insurance may explain why members of these populations make fewer visits to the dentist's office. In fact, NIDCR-supported researchers have determined that only 22 percent of African Americans, for example, have even visited a dentist this past year — exactly one-half the average for the rest of the nation. And when it comes to serious diseases such as oral cancer, the statistics are particularly grim — African Americans have a significantly higher disease rate and a much poorer 5-year survival rate than white Americans.

Addressing these oral health disparities continues to be one of NIDCR's top priorities. Using innovative methods to reach minority populations, NIDCR is gathering information about their oral health, finding out why health disparities occur and providing a number of new treatments for dental, oral and craniofacial diseases and disorders.

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