An ethnographic study for understanding children's oral health in a multicultural community


Department of Dental Public Health Sciences, University of Washington, Box 357475, Seattle, WA 98195–7475, USA. Email:


Objective: To provide guidance for a public health intervention in a high caries rate multicultural population by understanding cultural issues surrounding children's oral health.

Method: Seven community focus groups were conducted with five ethnic populations (Chamorro, Filipino, Carolinian, Pohnpean, and Chuukese) living on the island of Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, USA. Participants were asked questions about their beliefs, attitudes, knowledge, and care practices regarding issues around children's oral health.

Results: Analysis consisted of a content review of participants' responses within two targeted areas: past and current attitudes and health beliefs, and behaviours impacting risk of developing disease. Both the lack of value of baby teeth and negative parental experiences are factors underlying health beliefs and behaviours. Although some differences in beliefs and practices existed across cultural groups, most women were interested in learning about new preventive strategies to reduce dental disease. Several new mothers reported that they actively sought out parenting information during their initial pregnancy.

Conclusions: Aversive parental experience and disregard for primary dentition were identified as serious obstacles to be addressed in order for any new programme to be effective. Despite these obstacles, new mothers were open to information and strategies to reduce the prevalence of early childhood caries.