The role of health-related behaviors in the socioeconomic disparities in oral health

Soc Sci Med. 2009 Jan;68(2):298-303. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2008.10.030. Epub 2008 Nov 21.


This study aimed to examine the socioeconomic disparities in health-related behaviors and to assess if behaviors eliminate socioeconomic disparities in oral health in a nationally representative sample of adult Americans. Data are from the US Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1988-1994). Behaviors were indicated by smoking, dental visits, frequency of eating fresh fruits and vegetables and extent of calculus, used as a marker for oral hygiene. Oral health outcomes were gingival bleeding, loss of periodontal attachment, tooth loss and perceived oral health. Education and income indicated socioeconomic position. Sex, age, ethnicity, dental insurance and diabetes were adjusted for in the regression analysis. Regression analysis was used to assess socioeconomic disparities in behaviors. Regression models adjusting and not adjusting for behaviors were compared to assess the change in socioeconomic disparities in oral health. The results showed clear socioeconomic disparities in all behaviors. After adjusting for behaviors, the association between oral health and socioeconomic indicators attenuated but did not disappear. These findings imply that improvement in health-related behaviors may lessen, but not eliminate socioeconomic disparities in oral health, and suggest the presence of more complex determinants of these disparities which should be addressed by oral health preventive policies.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Dental Health Services
  • Diet
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Status Disparities
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Dental
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oral Health*
  • Oral Hygiene
  • Regression Analysis
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States / epidemiology