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Childhood Tooth Decay

Tooth Decay in Baby Teeth

Overall Tooth Decay (dental caries) in the baby teeth of children 2 to 11 declined from the early 1970s until the mid 1990s. From the mid 1990s until the most recent (1999-2004) National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, this trend has reversed: a small but significant increase in primary decay was found. This trend reversal was more severe in younger children. Tables 1 through 4 present selected caries estimates in primary teeth for children aged 2–11 years and for selected subgroups.

Prevalence

  • 42% of children 2 to 11 have had Tooth Decay (dental caries) in their primary teeth.

  • Black and Hispanic children and those living in families with lower incomes have more decay.

Unmet Needs

  • 23% of children 2 to 11 have untreated Tooth Decay (dental caries).

  • Black and Hispanic children and those living in families with lower incomes have more untreated decay.

Severity

  • Children 2 to 11 have an average of 1.6 decayed primary teeth and 3.6 decayed primary surfaces.

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

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

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

Tooth Decay (dental caries) in children’s permanent teeth declined from the early 1970s until the mid 1990s. Significant disparities are found in some population groups. Tables 5 through 8 present selected caries estimates in permanent teeth for children aged 2–11 years and for selected subgroups.

Prevalence

  • 21% of children 6 to 11 have had Tooth Decay (dental caries) in their permanent teeth.

  • Hispanic children and those living in families with lower incomes have more decay in their permanent teeth.

Unmet Needs

  • 8% of children 6 to 11 have untreated decay.

  • Hispanic children and those living in families with lower incomes have more untreated decay.

Severity

  • Children 6 to 11 have about 0.45 decayed permanent teeth and 0.68 decayed permanent surfaces.

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

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

Units of Measure: Tooth Decay (dental caries) is measured by a dentist examining a child’s teeth, and recording the ones with untreated 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;

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

  • dft (decayed and filled teeth): this is the sum of ft and dt, and is the measure of person’s 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. The following tables list both methods of measuring caries.

Source: NIDCR

 

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