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Common Dental Problems Among Hispanics

Common dental problems among Hispanics include Periodontal (gum) disease, missing teeth, and Halitosis (bad breath). In a study concerning dental health of Mexican Americans, Cuban Americans and Puerto Ricans, Ismail and Szpunar (1990) found that "all Hispanics had a higher prevalence of gingivitis (a type of gum disease) than American adults as estimated during the 1985-86 National Institute of Dental Research (NIDR) survey of American adults". Puerto Ricans were found to have the highest level of periodontal (gum) disease among the Hispanic subgroups as well as Americans.

Gum Disease

Gum disease destroys gum tissue, bone, and other supportive structures that hold teeth in place. Prompt diagnosis and treatment along with good oral hygiene are the best means of preventing gum disease. It is not only the leading cause of tooth loss in adults, it has also been linked with an increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. This association between gum disease and heart disease can be explained in part by the common risk factors seen in these two conditions. Risk factors include smoking, diabetes, and stress. In individuals who have poorly controlled diabetes as well as gum disease, the two conditions can make each other worse.


In order to treat gum disease, the dentist may recommend root planning and scaling, antibiotics, and/or gum surgery.

Root Planning and Scaling is an aggressive cleaning technique performed by a dentist or periodontist. A special instrument is slipped down to the bottom of the pocket (the separation between the teeth and gums), removing the harmful plaque and tartar. The instrument then shaves off the thin over-layer of root that contains toxic bacterial by-products.

Antibiotics may also be recommended by by the dentist in order to target the infection directly. The dentist can insert an antibiotic-filled hollow fiber or antibiotic gel, granules, or paste into the periodontal pocket. However, an antibiotic treatment is usually reserved for patients that have not responded to one or two rounds of root planning and scaling.

Gum Surgery is the preferred option if the periodontal pockets are too deep or twisted to be cleaned any other way, or if there is substantial bone loss. Periodontists can surgically peel back the gum to expose the roots for maximal cleaning and to rebuild supporting tissue. This type of surgery may cause receded gum lines or temporary sensitivity to brushing and extreme temperatures.

Missing Teeth

It is important to replace missing teeth promptly in order to prevent the remaining teeth from shifting into the gap, which increases the risk of gum disease and the loss of additional teeth. There are several ways to replace missing teeth, however the cost, preparation time, and extensiveness of the procedure vary. Choices include a variety of bridges, a partial denture, or an implant.

Bad Breath

Halitosis, more commonly referred to as bad breath, has a large number of causes. Some of the causes include dental decay, oral infections, medication, food, smoking, a sinus infection, diseases related to the lungs, kidneys and liver, blood disorders, diabetes, gallbladder dysfunction, and menstruation. Everyone experiences bad breath from time to time and with all of these causes, it has become a concern to everyone. Bad breath can be treated temporarily by chewing sugar-free gum, but more importantly, good dental hygiene is recommended. This includes brushing and flossing teeth at least twice a day. It is also recommended to clean the tongue with the toothbrush or a tongue scraper, which is a plastic tool that scrapes away bacteria that has built up on the tongue.


Accessibility | Privacy | ASU Disclaimer This site was created by Angela Arnold in fulfillment of requirements for the course CSS 335: Latino Health Issues taught by Dr. Szkupinski Quiroga at Arizona State University, Spring 2006.