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Am J Public Health. 2008 Sep;98(9 Suppl):S102-5.

Lack of oral health care for adults in harlem: a hidden crisis.

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School of Dental and Oral Surgery, Columbia University, New York, NY 10032, USA.



Profound and growing disparities exist in oral health among certain US populations. We sought here to determine the prevalence of oral health complaints among Harlem adults by measures of social class, as well as their access to oral health care.


A population-based survey of adults in Central Harlem was conducted from 1992 to 1994. Two questions on oral health were included: whether participants had experienced problems with their teeth or gums during the past 12 months and, if so, whether they had seen a dentist.


Of 50 health conditions queried about, problems with teeth or gums were the chief complaint among participants (30%). Those more likely to report oral health problems than other participants had annual household incomes of less than $9000 (36%), were unemployed (34%), and lacked health insurance (34%). The privately insured were almost twice as likely to have seen a dentist for oral health problems (87%) than were the uninsured (48%).


There is an urgent need to provide oral health services for adults in Harlem. Integrating oral health into comprehensive primary care is one promising mechanism.

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