Top 7 Facts About Poverty and Oral Health in Latin America

op Seven Facts About Poverty and Oral Health in Latin AmericaIndividuals living in poverty face disparities. Picture-perfect smiles are often out of reach for those living in impoverished conditions. This is due to various socio-economic factors like food insecurity or lack of dental coverage. The Pan American Health Organization found Latin Americans suffer from twice as many cavities as U.S. citizens. The top seven facts about poverty and oral health in Latin America are discussed here.

Top 7 Facts About Poverty and Oral Health in Latin America

  1. Oral health literacy is a neglected topic of research in the Latin American region. A correlation between the levels of oral health literacy in parents and a child’s oral health is present. This demonstrates the importance of furthering research. The Journal of Oral Research states the lack of oral health research is worrisome for the region. Oral health status is unique to each country and region.
  2. A 2016 report found Brazil’s dental market ranks third behind the United States and China. As a nation with one of the fastest-growing beauty markets, Brazil’s oral hygiene market is amongst the world’s leaders. Products such as toothpaste and mouthwash have seen an increase in recent years. A rising population, an emerging middle class, changes in consumer preferences and investment in promotions are causes of the growing market.
  3. In Latin America, there is a shortage of oral health personnel. Most of the dental systems are limited to pain relief or emergency services. In developing countries, such as those in Latin America, individuals are insufficiently covered for oral health care. This is a result of deregulation or privatization of care. A World Health Organization report indicates Chile has a 1.6 dentist-population ratio (one dentistry personnel per 10,000 people). On the other hand, Brazil sits at 12.3 density. The top seven facts about poverty and oral health in Latin America are revealing Brazil to be a dominating country in dental hygiene.
  4. However, the lack of government funding is a barrier for sufficient oral health care in Latin America. Often, government agencies are more likely to provide adequate funding to health care programs aiming at more serious diseases. Recent health surveys in Mexico investigated heart disease, addictions, immunization, chronic disease as well as violence against women. However, these surveys did not investigate oral diseases. Mexico spends approximately 6.2 percent of its budget on healthcare, a statistic below the 9.6 global average. Mexico’s healthcare system reform is projected to focus on prevention. It will reduce healthcare inequality through social factors and impose a new sales tax on sugared foods and beverages.
  5. In 2015, two dental students from Columbia University’s College of Dental Medicine partnered with the U.S. International Health Alliance, a non-profit organization working to advance global health, to bring dental care to children in Guatemala. Nearly 1,000 children received toothbrushes and lessons on oral health care and prevention of disease. The two dental students mentioned the local diet and lack of access to medical or dental care as two causes for the severe dental decay they witnessed.
  6. The Latin American Oral Health Association held a regional symposium to address the periodontal disease and its effect on general health in Latin America in January of 2019. Eighteen countries were represented as the aim of the symposium was to develop a regional plan to address gingival health issues. The symposium focused on the global burden of periodontal diseases on health, problems associated with diagnostic of the condition, problems associated with the treatment of the condition and possible solutions within Latin America.
  7. The University of West Florida’s College of Health studied the impact of social determinants of health, availability of oral health services, drug use and oral hygiene practices in Ecuador. The surveys conducted found participants had a low level of education, high levels of carbohydrates in their diet, poor feeding and prevention practices. The researchers reported their findings to the local authorities and community officials. They also plan to work closely with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to develop a device to reduce fluoride levels in the community water system.

Though many countries struggle with oral health, these top seven facts about poverty and oral health in Latin America reveal the strides taken in minimizing the problem. Oral health is at the focus of various organizations both within and outside of Latin America. Researchers aim to look into oral health and increase education in the region. While certain countries like Ecuador and Guatemala struggle with oral health, Brazil acts as a model of what those nations can strive to become.

– Gwendolin Schemm
Photo: Flickr