Center Mission

The Northwest Center to Reduce Oral Health Disparities conducts community-based research. We focus on solutions to dental and oral health disparities among vulnerable, rural, and under-served populations.

What Is “Oral Health Disparity”?

Oral health disparity means that there exist a disproportionate burden and risk of poor dental health in a particular population. The Center’s emphasis is on gender, race/ethnicity, literacy, income, and geographic location. Women in general have more dental visits than men, yet many women do not see a dentist during pregnancy, an important milestone. Ethnic and minority women have among the lowest rates of utilization overall. Ethnic and minority across the ages have higher rates of dental disease and rates of untreated dental diseases.

Why Study Oral Health Disparities?

The Northwest Center to Reduce Oral Health Disparities focuses on dental caries (or tooth decay) in children and dental health access and care for pregnant women because they are the major oral health challenge the U.S. society faces. In the year 2002, the center (then known as the Northwest/Alaska Center to Reduce Oral Health Disparities) developed a conceptual framework for work addressing dental health disparities and dental care inequities in access to have and maintain healthy teeth, particularly for mothers and children.

How Do We Study Oral Health Disparities In The Northwest Center?

In creating the Center we have tried to push our focus beyond the traditional practices. This Center represents a nontraditional collaboration of clinical and basic scientists, behavioral scientists, and experts in clinical microbiology and biometry which we believe is unique in most oral health research and is needed to address the complex problems at the root of oral health disparity.

What Research Has The Center Done?

The Center’s current NIDCR funded studies focus on pregnant women and their newborns, known as the Baby Smiles Project, and on children with special health care needs, a project entitled, “The Social-Ecology of Oral Health and Disease in Young Children with Special Needs”.

Previous research projects in the Center focused on a variety of topics including orthodontic intervention under Medicaid, adolescent dental avoidance and dental fear in rural communities, socio-biological boundaries in oral health, and microbiological studies of the effects of xylitol and of beta defensins in caries-prone children.

The Center’s Reach?

The Pacific Northwest comprises an extensive region with diverse populations. Many of our population groups face significant oral health problems exacerbated by limited access to health care. Our youngest children have the severest problems. The region stretches from the urban areas of Western Washington State and Seattle to the agricultural areas of Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Its diverse racial and cultural populations include Hispanics, African Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, American Indians and Alaska Natives, and White Americans.

The region is home to growing numbers of immigrants. These groups have been identified in Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General as carrying a much greater disease burden and receiving fewer health care services than other parts of the U.S. population. This research center was created with the exclusive intent to address the unique oral health problems of this diverse population. Our current projects focus on populations in Oregon and Washington.