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Dental Wars: Arming Immigrants with the Tools to Combat Poor Dental Health and Stigma

Research Team

Principal Investigator: Mary S. Willis

Funding Information

Funding Agency: Office of Research and Economic Development—Layman Award

Award Date: May 1, 2018

End Date: Apr 30, 2019


Although oral disease is mostly preventable, it remains one of the world’s most common illnesses. Limited access and high cost make dental services prohibitive for many Latino immigrant families. 

While studies have shown dental appearance and aesthetics are important for positive attributions, relationship choice and employment outcomes, immigrant families’ perceptions of dental aesthetics have not been investigated. 

Although most data on dental health status among minorities is epidemiological, research with U.S. majority populations suggests poor dental status also will negatively influence psychological well-being among immigrants. This pilot study aims to provide Latino/a immigrant communities with the information needed to maximize their own oral health status in a resource-poor environment. 

Collaborating with non-profit community center partners, on-site project coordinator, bilingual research translators and a public health service dentist, 100 Latino/a immigrants in Lincoln, Nebraska, will be examined at a local community center to assess their dental health and measure dental history and access, dietary patterns and the associated stigma of poor oral health. 

The study will also explore perceptions held by Latino/a immigrants on dental aesthetics, dietary composition and daily dental hygiene, as well as the resulting psychological ramifications, such as self-esteem, psychological distress and well-being. 

Data will be used to design an intervention study for both urban and rural settings in Nebraska to enhance dental health status and oral health literacy among immigrant families, while reducing psychological distress and improving dietary patterns.

Academic Intervention & Learning, Social, Emotional and Behavioral Well-being

Patient Oscar Kaled Gonzales gets a checkup from Nebraska College of Dentistry students Maddi McConnaughhay and Olivia Straka at Lincoln’s El Centro de las Américas.
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