Poor Oral Health Among Immigrants Linked to Lack of Insurance

A new study found that noncitizen immigrants have more dental health issues than U.S. citizens and even more than naturalized immigrants. But the findings also suggest the gap can be attributed to a lack of health insurance rather than other factors like ethnicity or even smoking status.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, was conducted by professors Luisa Borrell (CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, Epidemiology and Biostatistics) and Jim Stimpson (CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, Health Policy and Management).

Few studies have looked at disparities in oral health based on immigrant status, and those that have found poorer oral health in undocumented residents.

In this study, the researchers looked at oral health data from a large national survey that included U.S. natives, naturalized citizens, and noncitizens between 2013 and 2014. They found that about 51 percent of noncitizen immigrants had been diagnosed with periodontal disease compared to 34 percent of U.S.-born adults; and 38 percent of noncitizen immigrants had cavities compared to 27 percent of U.S.-born adults. In contrast, naturalized immigrants did not have a substantially higher rate of periodontal disease or cavities than U.S.-born adults.

Yet when the researchers adjusted their results for health insurance, they found that there was no longer a difference in rates. “This suggests that access to care may be a key factor in explaining these differences between noncitizens and natives,” the authors wrote.

Undocumented immigrants often cannot afford health care because of high poverty rates, and they are not eligible for most federal and state health benefits programs. Not having dental insurance has been associated with less utilization of preventative dental services. The authors recommend extending oral health benefits to noncitizens so they can have better access to preventative oral health care.

Borrell also recently published studies examining the impact of gender and education on European immigrants, and the impact gentrification and immigration had on local residents’ health in a Madrid neighborhood.

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Explore This Work
Disparities in oral health by immigration status in the United States
Journal of the American Dental Association, 2018

Work By
Luisa Borrell (Professor, Epidemiology and Biostatistics) | Profile
Jim Stimpson (Professor, Health Policy and Management)

Colleges and Schools
Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy

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