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Racial variations in dental procedures: the case of root canal therapy versus tooth extraction.

Kressin NR, Boehmer U, Berlowitz D, Christiansen CL, Pitman A, Jones JA. Racial variations in dental procedures: the case of root canal therapy versus tooth extraction. Medical care. 2003 Nov 1; 41(11):1256-61.

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BACKGROUND: Racial disparities have been widely documented in medical care, but variations in dental care have not been well examined. OBJECTIVES: To determine if there is racial variation in use of root canal therapy versus tooth extraction across different levels of dental insurance coverage and adjusting for other factors known to influence treatment decisions. METHODS: Within 3 different categories of insurance coverage, we examined whether there were racial differences in the provision of the tooth-sparing treatment of root canal therapy (vs. tooth extraction) among 54,423 users of outpatient Veterans Affairs dental care in 1998. Regression analyses adjusted for the severity of tooth- and gum-related disease, age, sex, medical and psychiatric comorbidities, prior use of preventive dental services, tooth extraction and root canal therapy, and clustering by geographic region. RESULTS: In the adjusted regression models, black patients and those with unknown race were less likely overall to receive root canal therapy than whites, whereas Asians were more likely. Among patients with eligibility for continuing and comprehensive dental care, blacks were less likely and Asians more likely to receive root canals than whites. For patients covered only for emergency dental care, Hispanics had a higher likelihood of receiving root canal therapy. Among all other types of coverage, there were no significant racial differences in the care received. CONCLUSION: We observed substantial racial variations in the provision of root canal therapy among patients treated in Department of Veterans Affairs dental clinics. Future research should identify the causes of such variations.

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