Medical anthropologists address issues related to the cultural, social, structural, and other contextual factors that affect the meaning of health and wellness, beliefs on treatment as well as health access and intervention approaches. One area that has been almost completely overlooked by medical anthropologists is oral health. Oral health is understood to affect general health in multiple ways across the lifespan. The WHO has reported that almost half of the world’s population has experienced oral disease (GBD 2018), and that such diseases share many risk factors with other major communicable diseases (UN General Assembly 2011). Similar to analyses of other forms of healthcare, studying the distribution of oral disease illuminates the differential effects that access to preventive care, dental treatments, and ability to pay for care manifest in communities worldwide. The same frameworks, questions and approaches anthropologists use in research on other areas of physical and mental health should be applied to oral health research and practice. Questions of truth related to illness and wellness, and differential trust in varied sources of knowledge, oral health rituals and behaviors and institutional dental care are pervasive, affecting individual decisions and institutional provider practices. Often these questions are rooted in structural inequities that distribute information and dental care unevenly. Answers to these questions are central to the responsibility of researchers to capture the consequences of such injustices and to promote the creation of policies for the just distribution of oral health care resources. Anthropologists’ research on oral health across the lifespan needs to address meanings and practices over oral health and hygiene, facilitators to oral health treatments, constraints in obtaining treatment, and the development of preventive interventions. This session will highlight the work of a number of researchers using anthropological approaches to oral health topics, with implications for policy and practice. Raskin’s paper examines how dental workforce reforms enacted to increase the number of providers who can deliver preventive services to historically marginalized populations in Virginia, among other states, have instead created new patient exclusions and reproduced existing dental team hierarchies. Schensul’s paper describes a collaborative approach to creating culturally appropriate oral health education materials that integrate scientific knowledge and oral health wisdom of multiethnic older adults living in subsidized senior housing for intervention development. Cruz’s paper analyzes trust in parent-dentist relationships vis-a-vis topical fluoride hesitancy and the impact of history, ‘choice’, and motive have on preventive therapy decision-making. Her's research explores the integrative oral health approaches in the California Central Valley Hmong community and how historical and cultural perspectives of pain and biomedical dental care influence care-seeking preferences. Hoeft’s paper explores the sharing and transfer of responsibility for oral health and illness between providers, parents and children through examining the implementation of an enhanced home care prevention program within a large dental practice in Oregon. The session will end by discussing the previously overlooked opportunity for medical anthropology methods to impact oral health and flag the need for more research to address oral health disparities in the U.S. and globally.
Next from AAA Annual Meeting 2021
An Approach to the Co-creation of Oral Health and Hygiene Communications Materials for use in Peer-driven Community-based Interventions with Older Adults
AAA Annual Meeting 2021
18 November 2021