U.S. Kids Have Fewer Cavities Today
Compared to just a few years back, U.S. kids have fewer cavities or “dental caries” today.” Nevertheless, dental caries is still the top chronic disease among 6-19 year-olds.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in 2015-2016 kids far fewer cavities than kids had four years earlier. The CDC researchers found a decline in total caries prevalence from 50.0% in 2011–2012 to 43.1% in 2015–2016.
In addition, the prevalence of untreated caries is trending downward. For untreated caries, the CDC found that although the prevalence increased from 16.1% in 2011–2012 to 18.0% in 2013–2014, it then decreased to 13.0% in 2015–2016.
The prevalence of caries, both treated and untreated, was lowest among kids 2–5 years of age.
The CDC monitors the prevalence of treated and untreated caries as part of their work to help prevent and control oral diseases. The organization published these findings in April. The data is part of a continuing study of Americans’ health and nutrition habits.
Income disparities, however, persist
In spite of these improvements, oral health disparities continue to exist.
The researchers found the highest prevalence of cavities, 52 percent, was among Hispanic youth. Non-Hispanic black youth had the highest prevalence of untreated dental caries: about 17 percent. By comparison, fewer than 12 percent of white kids and 10.5 percent of Asian kids had untreated caries.
In addition, lower-income kids had much higher cavity rates than wealthier ones. In fact, as family income levels increased, the prevalence of dental caries decreased. Researchers found the lowest prevalence of dental caries, whether treated or untreated, was in children from families that had incomes in excess of 300% of the federal poverty level.
What’s behind these changes?
Why has the prevalence of caries declined? According to the report’s author, it is not possible to tell whether changes in habits or better access to dental care could explain the decline.
Reporting on the CDC’s findings, WebMD interviewed Dr. Rosie Roldan at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami. Dr. Roldan, who directs pediatric dentistry, was not involved in the study.
“It’s encouraging to see this decline happening,” said Dr. Roldan, who pointed out that “the youngest children in the study — those ages 2 to 5 — had the lowest rates of cavities and untreated cavities.” She suggested this could “be related to a push in recent years to get young children to the dentist,” WebMD reported.
Read next: Why Generation Z Might Go On to Have the Healthiest Teeth to Date
Fleming E, Afful J. Prevalence of total and untreated dental caries among youth: United States, 2015–2016. NCHS Data Brief, no 307. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2018.