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Inequity in access to dental care services explains current socioeconomic disparities in oral health: The Swedish National Surveys of Public Health 2004–2005


Objective: To analyse the effects of socioeconomic disadvantage on access to dental care services and on oral health.

Design, setting and outcomes: Cross-sectional data from the Swedish National Surveys of Public Health 2004 and 2005. Outcomes were poor oral health (self-rated oral health and symptoms of periodontal disease) and lack of access to dental care services. A socioeconomic disadvantage index (SDI) was developed, consisting of social welfare beneficiary, being unemployed, financial crisis and lack of cash reserves.

Participants: Swedish population-based sample of 17 362 men and 20 037 women.

Results: Every instance of increasing levels of socioeconomic disadvantage was associated with worsened oral health but, simultaneously, with decreased utilisation of dental care services. After adjusting for age, men with a mild SDI compared with those with no SDI had 2.7 (95% confidence interval (CI) 2.5 to 3.0) times the odds for self-rated poor oral health, whereas odds related to severe SDI were 6.8 (95% CI 6.2 to 7.5). The corresponding values among women were 2.3 (95% CI 2.1 to 2.5) and 6.8 (95% CI 6.3 to 7.5). Nevertheless, people with severe socioeconomic disparities were 7–9 times as likely to refrain from seeking the required dental treatment. These associations persisted even after controlling for living alone, education, occupational status and lifestyle factors. Lifestyle factors explained only 29% of the socioeconomic differences in poor oral health among men and women, whereas lack of access to dental care services explained about 60%. The results of the multilevel regression analysis indicated no additional effect of the administrative boundaries of counties or of municipalities in Sweden.

Conclusions: Results call for urgent public health interventions to increase equitable access to dental care services.

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