New research has found that African Americans in the U.S. who suffer from diabetes are more prone to losing teeth than whites and Mexican Americans with the same condition.
According to The Verge, the study was recently published in a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The findings suggest that African Americans do not have proper access to dental care, which prevents them from getting the treatment they need.
While diabetic patients of all ethnic backgrounds lose about twice as many teeth as those without the condition, the report notes that black people lose the greatest number of teeth among different races.
Oral health is often directly correlated to overall health, and certain chronic conditions have been linked to unhealthy gums. Studies have shown that the risk for cognitive decline, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory complications all increase as oral health declines.
This is not the first example of an ethnic gap in the oral health of Americans. A report from earlier this year found that black children are twice as likely to have untreated cavities as white children, despite the fact that teens of all ethnic backgrounds are just as likely to develop a cavity.
The fight against diabetes has been long and arduous for African Americans, and this new threat of tooth loss only adds to the dire nature of this condition. According to the American Diabetes Association, black adults are 1.7 times more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic whites.
When attempting to rationalize these eye-opening disparities between races, experts point to African Americans’ difficulty accessing affordable dental care. While about half of adults say they visit the dentist every six months, this number is often much lower for families who do not have the means to obtain treatment.
“For African Americans, the lack of access to care is profound,” said Bei Wu, a nursing professor at Duke University and co-author of the CDC report.
Wu adds that lower-income families, which are mostly of color, often forego buying dental insurance separately when their health insurance plans don’t cover dental procedures. This allows tooth decay to fester and worsen, leading to tooth loss.
While limited access to care is a primary reason for the increased risk of tooth loss among African American diabetes patients, there is no definitive answer as to why so many black adults with this disease are losing a disproportionate number of teeth.