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Community Dent Oral Epidemiol. 2010 Feb;38(1):1-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0528.2009.00499.x. Epub 2009 Oct 21.

Socioeconomic factors in adolescents' oral health: are they mediated by oral hygiene behaviors or preventive interventions?

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University of Pittsburgh, School of Dental Medicine, Pittsburgh, PA 15261, USA.



To determine whether there is a socioeconomic status (SES) disparity in caries experience (i.e., DMFT) in an adolescent sample from Pennsylvania and to determine whether differences in oral hygiene behaviors and preventive interventions account for this disparity.


A cross-sectional clinical assessment was conducted on a representative sample of 9th grade and 11th grade students across Pennsylvania. These students also completed a brief questionnaire regarding their oral hygiene behaviors. From this group of students, a random subsample of 530 parents completed a questionnaire assessing SES, fluoride exposure, and recency of receipt of dental services. DMFT was examined at two thresholds of severity: simple prevalence (DMFT > 0) and severe caries (DMFT > 3).


Using structural equation modeling, we found that lower SES was associated with higher prevalence of DMFT and higher prevalence of severe caries. Although lower SES was associated with lower rates of brushing, less use of sealants, and less recent receipt of dental services, these oral health behaviors and preventive interventions did not account for the disparities in DMFT defined by SES.


There is an SES gradient in caries experience in adolescents in Pennsylvania. Disparities in caries experience, however, cannot be accounted for by SES-associated differences in brushing, flossing, sealant use, fluoride exposure, or recency of use of dental services. To facilitate the design of preventive interventions, future research should determine the pathways through which SES-associated disparities occur.

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