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Adult Tooth Decay

Tooth Decay (dental caries) in Permanent (Adult) Teeth

Note: Approximately 5% of adults age 20 to 64 have no teeth. This survey applies only to those adults who have teeth.

Tooth Decay (dental caries), both treated and untreated, in all adults age 20 to 64 declined from the early 1970s until the most recent (1999-2004) National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The decrease was significant in all population subgroups. In spite of this decline, significant disparities are still found in some population groups.


  • 92% of adults 20 to 64 have had Tooth Decay (dental caries) in their permanent teeth.

  • White adults and those living in families with higher incomes and more education have had more decay.

Unmet Needs

  • 23% of adults 20 to 64 have untreated decay.

  • Black and Hispanic adults, younger adults, and those with lower incomes and less education have more untreated decay.


  • Adults 20 to 64 have an average of 3.28 decayed or missing permanent teeth and 13.65 decayed and missing permanent surfaces.

  • Hispanic subgroups and those with lower incomes have more severe decay in permanent teeth.

  • Black and Hispanic subgroups and those with lower incomes have more untreated permanent teeth.

Units of Measure: Tooth Decay (dental caries) is measured by a dentist examining a personís teeth, and recording the ones with untreated tooth decay and the ones with fillings. This provides three important numbers:

  • FT (filled teeth): this is the number of decayed teeth that have been treated, which indicates access to dental care;

  • DMT (decayed and missing teeth): this is the number decayed and missing teeth that have not been treated, which measures unmet need; and

  • DMFT (decayed, missing, and filled teeth): this is the sum of DMT and FT, and is the measure of personís total lifetime tooth decay.

In addition to counting decayed and filled teeth, this same information can be gathered at the tooth surface level. Since every tooth has multiple surfaces, counting the decayed or filled surfaces provides a more accurate measure of the severity of decay.

Source: NIDCR


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