Data Shows Improvement, Disparities in U.S. Oral Health

According to a recent statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tooth decay and complete tooth loss have both declined in the United States since the 1960s. While this is fantastic news, the data brief also exposed significant disparities that still remain in some age and race groups. The president of the American Dental Association (ADA), Dr. Maxine Feinberg,  commented on the data, stating that “Despite all the advances in our ability to prevent, detect and treat dental disease, too many Americans–for a variety of reasons–are not enjoying the best possible oral health.”

The CDC data brief, titled “Dental Caries and Tooth Loss in Adults in the United States, 2011-12” included these important findings, according to a recent article from the ADA.

  • 91% of adults aged 20-64 had dental caries and 27% had untreated tooth decay.
  • Untreated tooth decay was higher for the  non-Hispanic black (42%) and Hispanic (36%) populations when compared to the non-Hispanic white (22%) and non-Hispanic Asian (17%) adults aged 20-64.
  • Adults aged 20-39 were twice as likely to have all of their teeth (67%) when compared with those aged 40-64 (34%).
  • Approximately 20% of adults aged 65 and older had untreated tooth decay.
  • In adults aged 65 and over, complete tooth loss was highest among older non-Hispanic black adults (29%), followed by non-Hispanic white  (17%) and Hispanic (15%).

Lead author of the data brief, Dr. Bruce Dye, a National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research dental epidemiology officer, stated that “It is clear that dental caries continues to affect many of us as we age.”

In response, the ADA released a statement, calling the statistics “sobering.” Dr. Feinberg, noting the disparity among some populations, called for greater outreach to underserved populations.

But not all was doom and gloom, as some data showed strides in the right direction. In 1960-1962, approximately 49% of 11 million adults aged 65-74 had complete tooth loss, or edentulism. By 2011-12, that number dropped to about 13%. “It means that for many Americans, dentures are no longer inevitable, said Dr. Dye. The data used for the brief was collected from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which polled an oversampling of participants over a multistage process to ensure reliable information.

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