Nov 1, 2022 - Health

The Latina taking on the Hispanic oral health crisis

Amber Lovatos poses for a photo with trees in the background

Dental hygienist and author Amber Lovatos: Photo: Courtesy of Amber Lovatos

Research shows Latino adults are the least likely of any racial or ethnic group to seek dental care, but dental hygienist Amber Lovatos is on a mission to change that

Driving the news: Lovatos, who is also an author, has partnered with Crest and Oral-B's "Closing America's Smile Gap" campaign to address the oral health crisis among Hispanics in the U.S.

  • Lovatos works with the brands to organize community outreach events, which include free oral screenings, dental products, education, preventive care and resources to local clinics.
  • She also promotes dental health on her Instagram account.
  • Starting Tuesday, for each Crest and Oral-B product sold in November, the campaign will donate another to kids facing limited access to care.

Why it matters: Latinos have some of the poorest oral health across all racial or ethnic groups, with Latino children more likely to have decayed teeth and untreated dental issues — a problem that could later result in costly treatments or worsen chronic conditions, according to a June report from the Journal of Public Health Dentistry.

  • While increased access to care is tied to more frequent dentist visits, nearly 40% of Latino adults live in states where dental care is not covered by Medicaid, researchers wrote.

By the numbers: Fewer than 28% of Latino adults had a dental visit between 2017 and 2018, according to data from the American Dental Association.

  • Among Mexican American kids aged 12 to 19, nearly 70% have had cavities in their permanent teeth compared to 54% of white children, CDC data shows.

Lovatos told Axios that affordability, language barriers and shame often keep some Latinos from seeking care while others aren't aware of the resources available.

  • A first-generation Mexican American, Lovatos remembers she didn't visit the dentist for the first time until she was 13 years old, when the holes in her molars caused such extreme pain that she couldn't sleep.
  • The dentist recommended a root canal her family couldn’t afford, prompting them to grind up nails, mix them with water and stick them in her teeth’s holes.
  • Her experience drove her to become a dental hygienist and write a children's book about dental hygiene in Spanglish.

What to watch: Carlos De Jesus, senior vice president of North America oral care at Procter & Gamble, which owns Crest and Oral-B, said the company is working with dental schools to increase the number of Black and Hispanic students.

  • Roughly 6% of active dentists in the U.S. were Hispanic in 2020. White dentists account for more than 70%.
  • “This is not a one-year journey. This is not a one-month promotion. This is something we are committed to doing … however long it takes,” De Jesus told Axios.
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