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Oral Health and Oral Health Care Practices Among Low-Income Pregnant Women


  • Lauren P. Hunter CNM, PhD, WHNP,

  • Susan M. Yount CNM, PhD, WHNP-BC

Address correspondence to Lauren P. Hunter, CNM, PhD, WHNP, FACNM, Nurse-Midwifery Program Director, Professor, San Diego State University, School of Nursing, 5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, CA 92182-4158. E-mail:


Introduction: Access to dental care is a problem in California as in many parts of the United States. Many women, including half of those having dental problems, do not see a dentist during pregnancy. The objective of this study was to describe the oral health status and oral health practices of low-income pregnant women in San Diego, California, and to determine the needs for oral health care education in this population.

Methods: This descriptive, retrospective, correlational study examined oral health and oral health care practices by age, ethnicity, and gravidity by using medical records from a convenience sample of 380 low-income pregnant women.

Results: Most participants were primigravida, aged between 19 and 29 years, of Hispanic ethnicity, and insured by the state (Medi-Cal). All women received education on oral health. The majority (84%) were encouraged to get a dental examination. It had been more than 1 year since the last dental visit for most women (55%). Hispanic women were in need of dental care more than Filipina women or women of other ethnicities. A broken tooth was the primary reason for immediate dental referrals. Regularity of flossing and brushing teeth differed significantly (P= .015, P < .001) across ethnic groups, with Filipina women reporting better oral care practices.

Discussion: The results provide information for the future planning of effective dental health promotion programs. Findings suggest that low-income pregnant women have some healthy oral health care practices but are in need of dental services and oral health education. An oral health history, oral health education, dental screening, and dental referral, if needed, should be a routine part of prenatal care and annual examinations.