Introduction: Oral health is an important component of people's general health status. Many studies have shown that socioeconomic status is an important determinant of access to health services. In the present study, we explored the inequality and socioeconomic factors associated with people's non-use of dental care across Europe.
Methods: We obtained data from the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions survey conducted by Eurostat in 2007. These cross-sectional data were collected from people aged 16 years and older in 24 European countries, except those living in long-term care facilities. The variable of interest was the prevalence of non-use of dental care while needed. We used the direct method of standardisation by age and sex to eliminate confounders in the data. Socioeconomic inequalities in the non-use of dental care were measured through differences in prevalence, the relative concentration index (RCI), and the relative index of inequality (RII). We compared the results among countries and conducted standard and multilevel logistic regression analyses to examine the socioeconomic factors associated with the non-use of dental care while needed.
Results: The results revealed significant socio-economic inequalities in the non-use of dental care across Europe, the magnitudes of which depended on the measure of inequality used. For example, inequalities in the prevalence of non-use among education levels according to the RCI ranged from 0.005 (in the United Kingdom) to -0.271 (Denmark) for men and from -0.009 (Poland) to 0.176 (Spain) for women, whereas the RII results ranged from 1.21 (Poland) to 11.50 (Slovakia) for men and from 1.62 (Poland) to 4.70 (Belgium) for women. Furthermore, the level-2 variance (random effects) was significantly different from zero, indicating the presence of heterogeneity in the probability of the non-use of needed dental care at the country level.
Conclusion: Overall, our study revealed considerable socioeconomic inequalities in the non-use of dental care at both the individual (intra-country) and collective (inter-country) levels. Therefore, to be most effective, policies to reduce this social inequality across Europe should address both levels.