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Talking about Teeth: Egocentric Networks and Oral Health Outcomes in a Mexican American Immigrant Community

Immigration and Health

ISBN: 978-1-78743-062-4, eISBN: 978-1-78743-061-7

ISSN: 1057-6290

Publication date: 7 January 2019


Latinos in the United States have poor outcomes for periodontal and dental health. However, a detailed description of the mechanisms driving these patterns has only recently started to be addressed in the literature. In the current study, we explore relationships between individual-level characteristics of Mexican immigrants, properties of their networks, and experiences of dental problems. Specifically, using data from an urban community of Mexican immigrants to the American Midwest (n = 332), this study examines how characteristics of oral health matters (OHM) discussion networks and individual-level sociodemographic characteristics are associated with four adverse oral health outcomes. The results provide strong support for relationships between immigrants’ network characteristics and dental problems. We find that people with more dental problems talk about these issues more frequently with network ties. Conversely, stronger relationships with OHM discussion networks, as measured by mean closeness, are predictive of fewer dental problems. In addition, we identify a link between perceptions of alters’ knowledge about teeth, mouth, and gums and egos reporting better oral health outcomes. The observed patterns are suggestive of mechanisms of social influence that are well replicated in the social, medical, and public health literatures, but that have seldom been empirically tested in the domain of oral health. Though preliminary, our findings suggest a potential explanatory role for social networks in some of the most important questions and problems in oral health disparities research. In all, our findings suggest that social network members are active participants in the management and response to oral health problems in this immigrant group and should be considered an important factor in the development and course of diseases.



Pullen, E., Perry, B.L. and Maupome, G. (2019), "Talking about Teeth: Egocentric Networks and Oral Health Outcomes in a Mexican American Immigrant Community", Immigration and Health (Advances in Medical Sociology, Vol. 19), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 105-122.



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