Background There is very little information about the relationship between welfare regimes and oral health inequalities. We compared socioeconomic inequalities in adults’ oral health in five European welfare-state regimes: Scandinavian, Anglo-Saxon, Bismarckian, Southern and Eastern.
Methods Using data from the oral health module of the Eurobarometer 72.3 survey, we assessed inequalities in two self-reported oral health measures: no functional dentition (less than 20 natural teeth) and edentulousness (no natural teeth). Occupational social class, education and subjective social status (SSS) were included as socioeconomic position indicators. We estimated age-standardised prevalence rates, ORs, the Relative Index of Inequality (RII) and the Slope Index of Inequality (SII).
Results The Scandinavian regime showed the lowest prevalence rates of the two oral health measures while the Eastern showed the highest. In all welfare regimes there was a general pattern of social gradients by occupational social class and education. Relative educational inequalities in no functional dentition were largest in the Scandinavian welfare regime (RII=3.81; 95% CI 2.68 to 5.42). The Scandinavian and Southern regimes showed the largest relative inequalities in edentulousness by occupation and education, respectively. There were larger absolute inequalities in no functional dentition in the Eastern regime by occupation (SII=42.16; 95% CI 31.42 to 52.89) and in the Southern by SSS (SII=27.92; 95% CI 17.36 to 38.47).
Conclusions Oral health inequalities in adults exist in all welfare-state regimes, but contrary to what may be expected from theory, they are not smaller in the Scandinavian regime. Future work should examine the potential mechanisms linking welfare provision and oral health inequalities.
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