Context: Considering that 42% of children and adolescents and 91% of dentate adults experience dental caries, oral disease is a public health problem. Although the population's oral health is improving, certain subgroups remain at increased risk for dental disease.
Objective: To assess the oral health status at the substate level and explore the possibility of geographic oral health inequalities in New Hampshire while building upon existing surveillance data sets.
Design: We used the Third Grade Oral Health and NH Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System surveys. We ensured the availability of substate level data and compared county/region specific estimates.
Setting: New Hampshire.
Participants: Adults and third-grade students in public schools.
Main Outcome Measures: The prevalence of dental caries, untreated caries, and dental sealants among children; and the insurance status, utilization of dental services, and edentulism among adults.
Results: Of the 10 counties, the northernmost Coos County had consistently worse outcomes when compared with other counties. Only 64% of adult Coos County residents reported a dental visit in the past year; of these, 66% reported dental cleaning. Among adults 65 years and older, 29% were edentulous. In comparison with the state overall, these estimates were 76%, 77%, and 19%, respectively. Coos County third-grade students had the highest prevalence of dental caries experience (64% compared with 44% in New Hampshire) and untreated caries (31% compared with 12%), and only 24% had dental sealants (state prevalence is 60%).
Conclusions: Overall oral health status in our state is favorable and comparable with the nation, yet significant geographic inequalities exist among children and adults. The oral health status of disparate groups can be improved using tailored interventions such as community water fluoridation or expansion of school-based dental sealant programs. Surveillance at the substate level is an essential part of the planning, targeting, and progress monitoring.