An Interdisciplinary Conversation on Oral Health Disparities
This chapter combines ethnographic and social epidemiological approaches to analyze the causes of Latino children’s high rates of oral disease as well as their cumulative effects. Social epidemiological approaches suggest the complex interplay of biology and social structure at multiple levels in creating health inequalities. How can we use ethnography to operationalize this model, illustrating the varying role of familial, clinical, and sociopolitical contexts in creating farmworker youths’ health inequalities? Moreover, how can social epidemiology heed the insights of ethnography, and what happens when we assign equal truth status to parents’ “local” knowledge and to expert knowledge of epidemiological reports? This chapter serves as a lens both for understanding the roots of farmworker children’s poor oral health and as a thought experiment for considering the provocative methodological and epistemological questions posed by an interdisciplinary dialogue on health inequalities. Using a life course perspective, we examine the way that farmworker young adults’ poor oral health feeds back into a system of social inequality. Using the lens of oral health, this chapter presents a vivid argument for why health inequalities are cause for policy intervention—that is, why they are a matter not only of fairness but also of equity and justice.
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