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America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2017

Oral Health

Oral health is an essential component of overall health.53 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.54 Since the early 1970s, the prevalence of dental caries (cavities or tooth decay) in permanent teeth has declined in school-age children due to prevention efforts such as community water fluoridation programs and increased use of toothpastes containing fluoride.55, 56, 57, 58 Dental caries 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.59, 60

Indicator HC4.A: Percentage of children ages 5–17 with a dental visit in the past year by age and poverty status, 1999–2015
Indicator HC4.A: Percentage of children ages 5–17 with a dental visit in the past year by age and poverty status, 1999–2015

NOTE: From 1999 to 2000, children were identified as having a dental visit in the past year by asking parents "About how long has it been since your child last saw or talked to a dentist?" In 2001 and later years, the question was "About how long has it been since your child 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.

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

Indicator HC4.B: Percentage of children ages 2–4 with a dental visit in the past year by poverty status, 1999–2015
Indicator HC4.B: Percentage of children ages 2–4 with a dental visit in the past year by poverty status, 1999–2015

NOTE: From 1999 to 2000, children were identified as having a dental visit in the past year by asking parents "About how long has it been since your child last saw or talked to a dentist?" In 2001 and later years, the question was "About how long has it been since your child 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.

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

  • In 2015, children ages 2–4 were less likely to have had a dental visit in the past year (63 percent) than children ages 5–11 (91 percent) and adolescents ages 12–17 (88 percent).
  • Between 1997 and 2015, the percentage of children with a dental visit in the past year increased by 18 percentage points among children ages 2–4, 10 points among children ages 5–11, and 11 points among adolescents ages 12–17.
  • In 2015, among children ages 2–4, there was no statistically significant difference in the percentage with a dental visit in the past year by poverty level.
  • Among children ages 5–11, the percentage of children with family incomes of 200 percent or more of the poverty level with a dental visit in the past year was higher (93 percent) than those in families with lower incomes. There was no statistically significant difference in the percentage with a dental visit in the past year between those living in poverty (89 percent) and those with family incomes of 100 percent to 199 percent of the poverty level (88 percent) in 2015.

Indicator HC4.C: Percentage of children ages 5–17 with untreated dental caries (cavities) by age and poverty status, 1988–1994, 1999–2004, 2005–2008, 2009–2010, 2011–2012, and 2013–2014
Indicator HC4.C: Percentage of children ages 5–17 with untreated dental caries (cavities) by age and poverty status, 1988–1994, 1999–2004, 2005–2008, 2009–2010, 2011–2012, and 2013–2014

SOURCE: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

  • Among adolescents ages 12–17, the percentage with a dental visit in the past year was lower among those living in poverty (81 percent) and in families with incomes of 100 percent to 199 percent of the poverty level (84 percent), compared with adolescents in families with incomes of 200 percent or more of the poverty level (92 percent).
  • The percentage of children ages 5–11 with untreated dental caries (cavities) declined from 28 percent in 1988–1994 to 17 percent in 2013–2014. There was no statistical difference in the percentage of adolescents ages 12–17 with untreated dental caries in 1988–1994 and 2013–2014. However, the percentage of adolescents with untreated dental caries fell from 1999–2004 to 2005–2008 and then increased from 2011–2012 to 2013–2014.
  • Across all data years shown and for each age group, the prevalence of untreated dental caries was lower among children in families with incomes at or above 200 percent of poverty level than among those in lower income groups.
  • In 2013–2014, among younger children (ages 5–11), the percentage with untreated dental caries for children in poverty was 22 percent, higher than the 14 percent for children with family incomes at or above 200 percent of the poverty level. Among adolescents (ages 12–17), the percentage with untreated dental caries for children below 200 percent of poverty (29 percent for those in families below 100 percent of poverty and 22 percent for those in families of 100 percent to 199 percent of poverty) was higher than the percentage for children with family incomes at or above 200 percent of the poverty level (14 percent).

table icon HC4A/B HTML Table | HC4C HTML Table

53 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Oral Health, Children's Oral Health website: http://www.cdc.gov/OralHealth/children_adults/child.htm

54 Segura, A., Boulter, S., Clark, M., Gereige, R., Krol, D. M., Mouradian, W., … & Keels, M. A. (2014). Maintaining and improving the oral health of young children. Pediatrics, 134 (6), 1224–1229.

55 Marinho, V. C., Worthington, H. V., Walsh, T., & Clarkson, J. E. (2013). Fluoride varnishes for preventing dental caries in children and adolescents. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 7 (11), CD002279.

56 Community Preventive Services Task Force, Preventing Dental Caries: Community Water Fluoridation website: http://www.thecommunityguide.org/oral/fluoridation.html

57 Marinho, V. C., Higgins, J., Logan, S., & Sheiham, A. (2003). Fluoride toothpastes for preventing dental caries in children and adolescents. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 1, CD002278.

58 Ahovuo-Saloranta, A., Forss, H., Walsh, T., Hiiri, A., Nordblad, A., Mäkelä, M., & Worthington, H. V. (2013). Sealants for preventing dental decay in the permanent teeth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 3, CD001830. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001830.pub4.

59 Dye, B. A., Li, X., & Thornton-Evans, G. (2012). Oral health disparities as determined by selected Healthy People 2020 oral health objectives for the United States, 2009–2010 (NCHS Data Brief, No. 104). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.

60 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). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.