Expert Commentary

Latino preschool children’s oral health in rural California

2008 University of California, San Francisco, study on the causes behind the high rate of dental care among the state's Latino children.

A 2008 University of California, San Francisco, study “An Ethnographic Study of Latino Preschool Children’s Oral Health in Rural California,” examines the causes behind the high rate of dental care among the state’s Latino children. The report is based on research conducted from 2005 to 2006 of family, community, health care and regulatory factors that affect the dental care of low income children in rural areas of California.

The community studied was located in the agricultural Central Valley and of predominantly Mexican-American origin. Observations in homes, community facilities and health-care offices were supplemented by interviews with dental professionals, educators, caregivers and others.

By examining the problem from various angles, the study provides multiple sites of intervention to improve the quality of care for Latino children in the United States.

  • Parents, especially immigrant parents, often misunderstood the nature of the “stains” on their children’s teeth, and linguistic barriers prevent meaningful communication with dental professionals.
  • Within communities, lack of access to water treated with fluoride can compound difficulties, as can a lack of public transportation to dental clinics, and the difficulty of finding time to take a child for treatment when both parents are employed.
  • Few dental clinics were willing to treat young children, or accept patients in safety-net programs; only 35% of clinics within a 45-mile radius of the town accepted children under the age of four on Denti-Cal (part of Medicaid).
  • Medicaid access often varied seasonally, depending on whether parents were employed or not, and it often covered only the most serious interventions, leading to a lack in preventative care.

Photo by Eduardo Contreras of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Tags: agriculture, California, children, Hispanic, Latino, race, inequality, parenting

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