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America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2021

Oral Health

Oral health is an essential component of overall health.49 Good oral health requires both self-care and professional care. Regular dental visits provide an opportunity for prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment of oral and craniofacial diseases and conditions. Routine dental visits are recommended beginning at 1 year of age.50 However, dental caries (i.e., cavities) continue to be one of the most common diseases of childhood and remain a significant problem among children in some racial and ethnic groups and among children in poverty.51, 52

Indicator HC4.A: Percentage of children ages 5–17 with a dental visit in the past year by age and poverty status, 2009–2019
Indicator HC4.A: Percentage of children ages 5–17 with a dental visit in the past year by age and poverty status, 2009–2019

NOTE: Before 2019, children were identified as having a dental visit in the past year by asking parents, "About how long has it been since [child's name] last saw a dentist?" Parents were directed to include all types of dentists, such as orthodontists, oral surgeons, and all other dental specialists, as well as dental hygienists. Starting in 2019, children are identified as having a dental visit in the past year by asking parents, "About how long has it been since [child's name] last had a dental examination or cleaning?" Parents are directed to include cleanings from all types of dental care providers, such as dentists, orthodontists, oral surgeons, dental hygienists, and all other specialists. In 2019, the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) questionnaire was redesigned. Although the wording of the question identifying dental visits in the past year changed slightly in 2019, this change did not impact the measurement of dental visits. However, due to other changes to weighting and design methodology starting with the 2019 NHIS, data for 2019 are not strictly comparable with data for earlier years. For more information on the 2019 NHIS redesign, see https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhis/earlyrelease/EReval202009-508.pdf.

SOURCE: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey.

  • In 2019, about 9 in 10 children ages 5–17 (91%) had a dental visit in the past year. Children ages 5–11 (92%) were more likely to have had a dental visit in the past year compared with adolescents ages 12–17 (90%).
  • Throughout the period, among both children ages 5–11 and adolescents ages 12–17, the percentage of children with a dental visit in the past year was higher among those with family incomes at or above 200% of the poverty level than those with family incomes below poverty or with family incomes at 100%–199% of the poverty level.
  • Among children ages 5–11 in 2019, 94% of children with family incomes at or above 200% of the poverty level had a dental visit in the past year, which was 6 percentage points higher than those with family incomes below poverty (88%) and 4 percentage points higher than those with family incomes at 100%–199% of the poverty level (90%).
  • Among adolescents ages 12–17 in 2019, 93% of adolescents with family incomes at or above 200% of the poverty level had a dental visit in the past year, which was 7 percentage points higher than those with family incomes at 100%–199% of the poverty level (86%) and 6 percentage points higher than those with family incomes below poverty (87%).

Indicator HC4.B: Percentage of children ages 5–17 with untreated dental caries (cavities) by age and poverty status, selected years 1999–2004 through 2017–2018
Indicator HC4.B: Percentage of children ages 5–17 with untreated dental caries (cavities) by age and poverty status, selected years 1999–2004 through 2017–2018

SOURCE: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey.

  • The percentage of children ages 5–11 with untreated dental caries (i.e., cavities) declined from 27% in 1999–2004 to 16% in 2009–2010 and then remained stable through 2017–2018. In 2017–2018, 14% of children ages 5–11 had untreated dental caries.
  • In 2017–2018, 9% of children ages 12–17 had untreated dental caries, down from 19% in 1999–2004.
  • In 2017–2018, among children ages 5–11, the percentage with untreated dental caries for children in poverty was 22%—nearly three times as high as the percentage for children with family incomes at or above 200% of the poverty level (8%).
  • In 2017–2018, among adolescents ages 12–17, the percentage with untreated dental caries for adolescents in poverty was 15%—more than twice as high as the percentage of adolescents with family incomes at or above 200% of the poverty level (7%).

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49 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Oral Health. (2019). Children's oral health [Website]. http://www.cdc.gov/OralHealth/children_adults/child.htm

50 Krol, D. M., & Section on Oral Health Executive Committee, 2012–2013. (2014). Maintaining and improving the oral health of young children. Pediatrics, 134(6), 1224–1229. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/ pediatrics/134/6/1224.full.pdf

51 Satcher, D., & Nottingham, J. H. (2017). Revisiting oral health in America: A report of the surgeon general. American Journal of Public Health, 107(S1), S32–S33.

52 Dye, B. A., Thornton-Evans, G., Li, X., & Iafolla, T. J. (2015). Dental caries and sealant prevalence in children and adolescents in the United States, 2011–2012 (NCHS Data Brief No. 191). National Center for Health Statistics.