Evaluating the role of dental behaviour in oral health inequalities

OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to describe differences in dental attendance and dental self-care behaviour between socioeconomic groups and to investigate the extent to which the socioeconomic gradient in oral health was explained by these behaviours.

METHODS: We used data from a representative sample of adults in Australia, surveyed by telephone interview and by self-complete questionnaire. The dependent variables were self-reported missing teeth and the social impact of oral conditions evaluated with the 14-item Oral Health Impact Profile (OHIP-14). Socioeconomic position was measured at the small-area level. We conducted bivariate analysis using one-way analysis of variance and 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) and adjusted for the effect of age. After adjusting for age, dental behavioural variables were entered individually into multivariate linear regression models. RESULTS: Data were obtained for 3678 dentate adults aged 18-91 years. Missing teeth and OHIP-14 scores followed a social gradient with poorer adults experiencing poorer outcomes. Routine dental attendance and diligent dental self-care were associated with inverse monotonic gradients in missing teeth (P < 0.05) and OHIP-14 scores (P < 0.05). Although adults living in areas with the least disadvantage had a preventive dental attendance orientation, no socioeconomic pattern was found for dental self-care. In multivariate analysis, the slope of the socioeconomic gradient [beta estimate for Index of Relative Socioeconomic Disadvantage (IRSD)] in missing teeth was not significantly attenuated by either dental attendance or dental self-care. For OHIP-14 scores, the slope of the socioeconomic gradient was significantly attenuated by dental visiting, but not by dental self-care and not by the combined effect of both behaviours.

CONCLUSION: The commonly held view that the poor oral health of poor people is explained by personal neglect was not supported in this study.

Sanders AE, Spencer AJ, Slade GD

Community Dent Oral Epidemiol 2006;34(1):71-9.

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