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Ethnicity, country of origin can influence oral health

People's ethnicities and countries of origin can predispose them to tooth decay and periodontal disease, according to research presented at the annual scientific meeting of the International Association for Dental Research.

A New York University College of Dentistry team undertook the largest-ever study on the oral health of immigrants to the United States. They analyzed decay and periodontal disease rates in more than 1,500 immigrants living in New York City.

Cavities and periodontal disease can be linked to ethnicity and country of origin even among immigrants who have lived for many years in the United States and have increased income and education levels. In addition, ethnicity is a significant factor among those whose oral health already is at risk because they smoke or have systemic health conditions known to contribute to oral infections.

Dr. Gustavo D. Cruz, associate professor of epidemiology and health promotion and the director of global oral public health at NYU, said the study also revealed significant differences among the ethnic groups. For example, immigrants from Puerto Rico, Haiti and India were more likely to have periodontal disease, while Hispanics were more likely to have cavities.

"These differences are deeply rooted in an immigrant's country of origin, where early cultural influences can set the stage for oral health problems later in life," said Dr. Cruz. "For example, some ethnic groups may be more prone to tooth decay partly because their traditional foods are high in refined carbohydrates, while other groups may be less susceptible to decay because refined carbohydrates are almost absent from their diets.

"Other factors include oral health practices and environmental influences, as in the case of developing countries that don't have a fluoridated water supply to provide protection against tooth decay," Dr. Cruz continued. "Heredity can play a role, as well. Some ethnic groups may be more susceptible to decay-causing oral bacteria."

Researchers plan to identify what factors lead to the ethnic differences, so that preventive measures can be developed that will pinpoint the presence of harmful oral bacteria that may be more common in certain ethnic groups.

Please contact the ADA if you have questions about this article.

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

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