According to a recent report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Americans have less tooth decay and less tooth loss than just a decade ago.
The findings were obtained from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) which estimated the amount of dental decay (cavities), preventive techniques, and tooth loss from a cross sectional national survey. Although the overall trends are positive some demographic sectors remain at high risk.
"This survey represents the oral health of 256 million Americans," said Dr. Bruce Pihlstrom, DDS, acting director of the division of clinical research and health promotion at NIH's National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. "While the findings are encouraging, the report clearly tells us that more effort is needed to improve the oral health of low-income Americans."
Although the percentage of children who have never had cavities in permanent teeth decreased by fifteen percent since 1994 – 32 percent of Mexican-American and 27 percent of African American children ages 2 to 11 had untreated decay compared to 18 percent for Caucasian children.
For lower income adults, more than one third had untreated dental decay compared with 16 percent for high income adults.
There was more bad news for smokers with 14 percent of current smokers older than 20 years having lost all of their teeth compared to 4.6 percent among nonsmokers.
One reason for the improvements cited is dental sealants. These groove-sealing resins keep the decay-causing bacteria from penetrating the susceptible fissures in the teeth. Again, income levels made a difference. 37.9 percent of white children had at least one sealant while 23.4 Mexican-American children and 22.6 of African American children had at least one sealant.
The survey shows that much progress has been made in a reliably short time because of sealants, fluoride treatments, patient education, the increased number of school programs on oral health, and the hard work and dedication of dental professionals. Also handsome, is the need to continue to reach even more of the population with education and prevention.