Kids Seeing Fewer Caries and Adults Keeping More Teeth

Dentistry Today


Oral health is seeing slow but steady improvement among children and adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) from 1999 to 2004 and 2011 to 2016, the CDC explored oral health indicators including: 

  • Dental caries in primary teeth
  • Dental caries in the permanent teeth of children and adolescents
  • The use of dental sealants
  • Dental caries among adults and older adults
  • Edentulism and tooth retention 

Overall, the prevalence of dental caries in the primary teeth of children between the ages of 2 and 5 was 23% from 2011 to 2016, reflecting a decrease of five percentage points since 1999 to 2004. However, no change was detected in the prevalence of caries in primary teeth among children between the ages of 6 and 8 between the two NHANES survey periods.

The prevalence of dental caries in permanent teeth for children between the ages of 6 and 11 decreased from 21% to 15% between the survey periods. But prevalence only declined from 59% to 57% for adolescents age 12 to 19 from the earlier survey period to the latter one.

The use of sealants increased from 31% to 42% among children age 6 to 11 and from 38% to 48% among adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19. Increases in the prevalence of sealants were seen across all sociodemographic groups except among children and adolescents who weren’t considered poor.

The prevalence of caries decreased slightly among adults age 20 to 64 and increased slightly among adults age 65 and older. There was no difference in untreated decay, though, with one in four among the 20-to-64 age group and one in six in the 65-and-older group experiencing it.

The percentage of adults between the ages of 20 and 64 who have lost all of their teeth decreased from 4% from 1999 to 2004 to 2% from 2011 to 2016. Among adults age 65 and older, 27% had lost all of their teeth from 1999 to 2004, though that dropped to 17% from 2011 to 2016.

The CDC attributes improvements in children’s oral health to increased access to preventive and restorative care, with state Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Programs driving the use of dental services among poor and near-poor children and adolescents.

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