Small-area socioeconomic status and children's oral health in a safety-net care delivery setting

J Public Health Dent. 2021 Dec;81(1):3-11. doi: 10.1111/jphd.12387. Epub 2020 Sep 9.


Objectives: To better understand the impact of small-area socioeconomic status (SES) on caries experience and sealant presence among children receiving services through a comprehensive community-based safety-net oral health program.

Methods: Census-tract level household data from the American Community Survey was utilized to construct an index that reflects the small-area socioeconomic environments in which children receive oral health services. This area SES index was entered into a logistic model with sociodemographic participant data collected by the community-based oral health program to consider its association with outcomes (caries and sealant experience) at first program visit, among children older and younger than 5 years.

Results: Among poor children older than 5 years of age, higher census-tract level SES was associated with lesser caries experience and greater sealant experience at presentation for care to a community-based oral health program. Each standard deviation increase in census-tract level SES index was associated with reduced odds of any caries experience (aOR = 0.92; 95 percent CI 0.85, 0.99; P = 0.021) and increased odds of sealants (aOR = 1.20; 95 percent CI 1.05, 1.37; P = 0.009). Among children 5 years and under, only grade was associated with both outcomes.

Conclusions: Within an inner city area of poverty, the greater a census tract's socioeconomic risks to health, the greater the odds that children over age five experience caries and the lesser their odds of having dental sealants. While associations between SES and oral health outcomes across the full spectrum of SES have been recognized, this study suggests that within lower SES areas, SES-associated gradients exist in children's oral health.

Keywords: child; dental care; dental caries; oral health; pit and fissure sealants; social determinants of health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dental Caries* / epidemiology
  • Dental Health Services*
  • Humans
  • Oral Health
  • Pit and Fissure Sealants
  • Social Class


  • Pit and Fissure Sealants