Gaps to fill: Income, education may impact inequalities in seeking dental care

income inequalities


Economically advanced Japan has plentiful dentists, as well as a universal health insurance system, yet it also has oral care-related inequities, according to a new study. A team of researchers at the University of Tsukuba examined a huge set of claims and check-up data in search of regional and socioeconomic trends. Their findings included the key observation that regional lower income and educational levels may correlate with failing to seek preventive dental treatment. The study was reported in The Lancet Regional Health – Western Pacific.

Associate Prof. Takahiro Mori said: “We conducted an ecological [population-level] study to try and grasp how people access oral care across Japan, and what they seek. This was the first-ever national-level attempt to examine regional inequality in dental care use in our country”.

The 216 million pieces of data in this study spanned April 2017 to March 2018 and included indicators such as outpatient visits, use of outreach (home) services, and treatments such as fillings and dentures. The data were also examined in different regions in relation to socioeconomic factors, such as income and education.

Perhaps the most important finding regarded income and education, explained the study’s senior author, Prof. Nanako Tamiya: “Access to preventive care was negatively correlated with areas that showed lower income and education levels. This means people in those areas may be less likely to seek preventive dental measures such as calculus removal (i.e., cleaning). This, in turn, can make it harder to preserve teeth, and necessitates more severe treatment”.