Dominant Power and the Concept of Caste: Implications for Dentistry and Oral Health Inequality


Cristin Kearns, George Taylor, Snehlata Oberoi, and Elizabeth Mertz

May 2022

In her 2020 book Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson argues that a caste system not only exists in the US, but also operates as a hidden force affecting social inequality. In this paper, Healthforce Center’s Associate Director for Research Elizabeth Mertz and colleagues explore Wilkerson's view of how caste and casteism differ from racism and the eight pillars of a caste system, and then apply the concept of caste to understanding dominant power structures, dentistry, and oral health inequality.

This short read offers an important opportunity to reflect on how the work we do exists within dominant power structures that are often maintained by unquestioning participation. Our efforts to dismantle structural racism and advance health equity begin with examining our own individual biases. The concept of caste and its relationship to health inequality must be understood it if we want to create real social change.