Oral Health and Dental Care

Oral health conditions can cause chronic pain of the mouth and face and can impair the ability to eat normally. Regular dental care is particularly important for women because there is some evidence of an association between periodontal disease and certain birth outcomes, such as increased risk of preterm birth and low birth weight.1 To prevent caries (tooth decay) and periodontal (gum) disease, the American Dental Association recommends maintaining a healthy diet with plenty of water, and limiting eating and drinking between meals.2 Other important preventive measures include daily brushing and flossing, regular dental cleanings to remove plaque, and checkups to examine for caries or other potential problems.3

In 2003–2004, women were less likely than men to have untreated dental caries (23.9 versus 30.5 percent). Among women, non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic women were most likely to have untreated caries. Sealants—a hard, clear substance applied to the surfaces of teeth—may help to prevent caries, but only 21.2 percent of women had sealants. Non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic women were the least likely to have sealants (7.7 and 11.4 percent, respectively). The presence of untreated caries also varied by poverty status. Women with household incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level were more than twice as likely as women with higher incomes to have untreated dental caries (36.8 versus 15.6 percent, respectively; data not shown).

Poverty status may also influence how often women see a dentist. In 2003–2004, women with incomes of 100–199 percent of the poverty level were least likely to have seen a dentist in the past year (44.9 percent), followed by women with incomes of less than 100 percent of the poverty level (51.4 percent). In comparison, nearly 75 percent of women with incomes of 300 percent or more of poverty had seen a dentist in the past year.

1 Brown A. (2007) Research to Policy and Practice Forum: Periodontal Health and Birth Outcomes: Summary of a Meeting of Maternal, Child, and Oral Health Experts. Washington, DC: National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center.
2 American Dental Association. Diet and oral health: overview [online] http://www.ada.org/public/topics/diet.asp, accessed 04/14/08.
3 American Dental Association. Preventing periodontal disease. Journal of the American Dental Association 2001; 132: 1339.

Back to Top