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Fear of Dentist May Start Early for Minority Kids -- With Good Reason

HealthDay News
by -- Robert Preidt
Updated: May 9th 2019

new article illustration

THURSDAY, May 9, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- Not many children like going to the dentist, but minority kids may have some legitimate complaints, researchers suggest.

A new study finds that poor kids, and Hispanic and Asian children, may be more likely to have bad experiences during dental visits than whites and those from wealthier families, a new study finds.

In many cases, the child was physically restrained, separated from a parent/caregiver or sedated without consent.

"The prevalence of developmentally inappropriate care significantly differed between lower-income, Latino or Asian families and higher-income or Caucasian families," said lead author Stephanie Reich, an associate professor of education at the University of California, Irvine.

Her university team surveyed nearly 1,200 parents/caregivers of children younger than age 6 in four U.S. cities. The surveys, conducted in English, Spanish and Vietnamese, asked the respondents about their children's experiences at the dentist.

White parents/caregivers were more than twice as likely to report positive experiences, while upsetting incidents were much more common among low-income and minority families.

Nearly one-quarter of the caregivers recalled events that made them not want to revisit the dentist. Two-thirds had been separated from the child, and 25% of the kids were restrained, many during cleanings. Another quarter were sedated during cleanings.

The study was recently published in the journal Academic Pediatrics.

"Although Medicaid expansion has greatly increased children's oral health care coverage, utilization of services and health outcomes haven't matched that growth," Reich added in a university news release.

Poor dental health in childhood predicts dental disease later in life, according to the study authors.

They noted that research on children's dental care has focused primarily on issues such as insurance coverage, finding a Medicaid provider, transportation problems and parental knowledge. Little consideration has been given to the role dentists and staff play in whether children will get in the habit of dental care.

"We found that cost constraints, access to providers and lack of knowledge were not the primary barriers to initiating and continuing dental care," Reich said. "The data suggest that negative experiences likely reduce the probability of returning or taking other children to the dentist."

Overall, the findings demonstrate poor communication between providers and parents, and yet the role of dentists and their staff is not systematically studied, Reich said. "These data suggest it should be," she noted.

Dentists need better training in how to work with young children and interact with diverse families, she said. "The issue of identifying ways in which bias may alter the quality of care must be addressed, too," Reich added.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics explains the importance of regular dental visits.