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Systemic racism and racial inequities in periodontal health: The long journey from upstream determinants to downstream treatment.

Periodontology 2000 2024 March 20
Racial disparities in the prevalence of periodontal disease are consistent and persistent. The epidemiology of periodontal disease demonstrates racial inequities: non-Hispanic Black (14.7%), Mexican American (13.4%), and other Hispanic adults (7.8%) experience a higher prevalence of severe periodontal disease than non-Hispanic White adults (5.9%). Epidemiologic and clinical research on periodontal health suffers from the same problem that has plagued the health equity movement, an over emphasis on describing racial inequities coupled with few interventions that reduce racial health inequity. Over the decades that racial inequities in periodontal disease have been observed, many have argued that systemic racism is the fundamental driver of racial health inequity. This paper interrogates the roles of systemic racism, dental education, clinical treatment, and patient behavior in periodontal disease. We describe how, together, these mechanisms contribute to racial disparities in periodontal outcomes. However, it is insufficient for oral health equity scientists to only describe and discuss the negative effects of systemic racism. The imperative is to create antiracist strategies designed to eliminate systemic racism. Health equity scientists must also specify how dental systems operate in a racist manner and create effective clinical strategies designed to reduce racial disparities in periodontal disease.

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