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Report: Cost, lack of Spanish-speaking providers affect Hispanics' access to dental care

A close-up of a dentist pointing to an x'ray of teeth as a patient sits in a dentist chair in the foreground.
Manfred Rutz
Getty Images
Hispanics in Idaho face barriers to dental health access.

All counties in Idaho have a dentist shortage, especially in rural areas, but Hispanics appear to be disproportionately impacted by barriers to access.

A new report from insurance company Delta Dental shows Hispanic Idahoans are more likely to go to the ER for non-emergency oral healthcare than non-Hispanics. They also get teeth pulled at higher rates to avoid expensive procedures, like root canals and are more likely to require early dentures.

Community outreach manager for Delta Dental Shaina Cales said many factors play into these disparities, such as high out-of-pocket costs and lack of insurance.

“Specifically in the Hispanic community, there's some psychological barriers with fear of going to the dentist or fear of not understanding the health care system,” she said.

Those included fear of pain and hidden costs, but also embarrassment.

“Nearly every participant mentioned feeling shame when their teeth are not in good shape. Several mentioned the importance of a nice smile to self-esteem,” the report read.

Participants also cited difficulties to take time off of work and transportation issues as reasons to avoid the dentist. But lack of dental care can exacerbate preventable health issues, Cales said.

“It can affect your heart. There's a connection between diabetes and gum disease. And so, you know, the mouth is part of the body. It's all connected,” she said.

A recent report from Idaho State University and the Commission on Hispanic Affairs shows Hispanics in the state are uninsured at much higher rates than Whites, and face significantly worse health outcomes than non-Hispanics.

A lack of language skills and few Spanish-speaking providers were also found to be a key reason for not seeking dental care. Hispanics represent roughly 13% of Idaho’s population, but 1.3% of dentists and 5.5% of dental hygienists in the state identify as Hispanic.

“Community members don't have as many people they can go to that speak their language, that understands their cultural differences,” she said, adding “Representation matters.”

Cales says their findings highlight the need for increased outreach and more opportunities for Hispanic students to join dental training programs.

As the Canyon County reporter, I cover the Latina/o/x communities and agricultural hub of the Treasure Valley. I’m super invested in local journalism and social equity, and very grateful to be working in Idaho.

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