Panel outlines steps for overcoming oral health barriers in Hispanic community

July 24, 2012
Hispanic Dental Association Foundation (HDAF) and panel stress the importance of community involvement, increased communication and patient education in improving U.S. Hispanic oral health

The Hispanic Dental Association Foundation (HDAF) and Crest and Oral-B convened a roundtable of dental professionals, oral health researchers, and policy makers to discuss why Hispanics1 lag behind other Americans in many aspects of oral health. Participants identified clear goals to break down the barriers that currently prevent Hispanics from maximizing oral health services in their local communities.

The roundtable discussion took place during the Hispanic Dental Association’s 2012 Annual Meeting, which is part of a multicultural oral health summit in Boca Raton, FL.

The discussion reviewed findings from a 2011 survey led by the HDAF and sponsored by Crest and Oral-B. Of note, the survey found that the majority of U.S. Hispanics believe more information about good oral health habits, access to affordable oral health care, and more Hispanic and Spanish-speaking dentists and dental hygienists in their communities would help them “a lot” in achieving better oral health.2

“The survey was a critical starting point for raising awareness of the gaps in oral health knowledge and access to care among U.S. Hispanics. Now is the time to face these challenges head on,” said Sarita Arteaga, DMD, MAGD and spokesperson for the HDAF. “The experts agreed that while dental professionals may serve on the front line of oral health care, it is up to the entire community to take a more active role to ensure Hispanics have meaningful short- and long-term access to good oral care and education.”

Roundtable Outcomes

To address Hispanics’ barriers and knowledge gaps, the roundtable participants identified the following priorities:

  • Close the communication gaps between dental professionals and medical practitioners through continuing education programs and open dialogues at relevant meetings and professional conventions. Dr. Arteaga explained this educational exposure would assist non-Hispanic dental professionals with cultural comptency and better "understand the population they are treating and the specific oral health needs" of the Hispanic population.
  • Educate patients on the consequences of poor oral hygiene and the benefits of home care and prevention by creating culturally relevant learning opportunities through community gathering centers.
  • Identify local ambassadors to amplify the oral health message and serve as the coach in their community’s oral health routine.

Dr. Arteaga said that, while language barriers remain a significant factor, "it's not the only issue" being pursued by the association, stressing that the education of health-care professionals can improve the relationship between health-care professionals, Hispanics, and Hispanic parents. She said the roundtable would lead to a year of "working on the action items" identified by the roundtable.

“It was a great honor to be able to speak among such impressive minds in the field of oral health care,” said Dr. Armando Sanchez, a dentist in Clewiston, Fla. “We each serve the Hispanic community from different angles but we came together and agree that a successful change in oral health requires continual dialogue between patients and community health leaders. A vital next step is to execute programs and policies that will improve basic knowledge about the importance of oral health.”

The HDAF, Crest and Oral-B will be making a donation to the Caridad Center on behalf of roundtable participants for their work to improve the state of oral health among U.S. Hispanics. The Caridad Center is a free dental clinic serving Palm Beach County’s underprivileged population, including local Hispanic families.

The survey which prompted the roundtable, “Hispanics Open Up About Oral Health Care,” was conducted in 2011 among 1,000 Hispanic adults and 1,000 adults from the general population aged 18 and older who live in the continental U.S. Highlights from this research include:

  • When asked if cavities will go away on their own if you brush regularly, almost one-third of Hispanics (30%) responded that they believe this statement is true or did not know the answer, when in fact the statement is false. About half or more Hispanics also incorrectly answered true/false statements or were uncertain about the importance of brushing versus flossing, whether bleeding is normal during brushing, and if mouthwash provides oral health benefits beyond just freshening breath.
  • Nearly one in five (18%) Hispanics have not visited the dentist at all in the past two years, compared to 12 percent of the general population.
  • Approximately six in 10 Hispanics feel that a higher representation of Spanish-speaking and Hispanic dentists/hygienists in their community would help them “a lot” in achieving and maintaining better oral health.2


1. U.S. Census as of July 1, 2010.

2. GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications, Hispanic Dental Association, Crest and Oral-B. “Hispanics Open Up About Oral Health Care.” 2011.