Researchers Find Nonwhite Children Are More Likely to Be Mistreated at the Dentist

According to a new study led by scholars at the University of California Irvine, children from non-White families or those from low-income households are more likely than their White, affluent peers to experience negative incidents at the dentist such as being physically restrained, separated from their caregivers, or sedated without consent.

There has been previous research on childhood dental care that has focused on structural issues, such as insurance coverage, Medicaid availability, transportation challenges, and parent knowledge. This study is unique in that it looks at the role that dentists and staff play in hindering or facilitating children’s healthcare utilization.

“We found that cost constraints, access to providers and lack of knowledge were not the primary barriers to initiating and continuing dental care,” said Stephanie Reich, an associate professor of education at UCI and lead author of the study. “The data suggest that negative experiences likely reduce the probability of returning or taking other children to the dentist.”

For their study, the research team conducted focus groups with caregivers and young children in four different cities. They also administered a survey to 1,184 caregivers of children under six years old between May 2016 and June 2018. The results found that Whites were 2.26 times more likely to have reported positive dental experiences, while upsetting incidents were much more common among low-income and non-White families.

“Our findings that non-White and low-income children were significantly more likely to experience developmentally inappropriate care demonstrate poor communication between providers and parents, and yet the role of dentists and their staff is not systematically studied. These data suggest it should be,” said Professor Reich. “They need to receive better training in how to work with young children and interact with diverse families, and the issue of identifying ways in which bias may alter the quality of care must be addressed too.”

The full study, “Disparities in Caregivers’ Experiences at the Dentist With Their Young Child,” was published in Academic Pediatrics. It may be accessed here.

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