Americans have something new to smile about.
A government report released Thursday found that their oral health has significantly improved during the past decade.
Among the major findings: improvements since 1994 in the percentage of children and teens who have never had tooth decay in their permanent teeth; increased use of dental sealants (a thin plastic coating applied to the chewing surfaces of back teeth to prevent decay), and increased tooth retention among older adults.
“The good news is that efforts to reduce and prevent cavities and dental disease are paying off. We are seeing an increase in the number of children, teens and adults who have never had a cavity in their permanent teeth,” said Dr. William R. Maas, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s division of oral health, in a prepared statement.
“This survey represents the oral health of more than 256 million Americans,” added Dr. Bruce Pihlstrom, acting director of the division of clinical research and health promotion at the National Institute of Health’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.”
Key findings of the report show there was:
- A 15 percent decrease in the prevalence of tooth decay in permanent teeth for children and adolescents aged 6 to 19 years. That ranged from a 4 percent decrease for Mexican-American children and adolescents to an 18 percent decrease for white children and adolescents.
- A 64 percent increase in the use of dental sealants among children and adolescents, with one in three children having at least one dental sealant on permanent teeth. This increase crossed all racial and ethnic groups and all income levels.
- A 20 percent decrease from the previous survey in the number of adults aged 60 and older who had lost all their teeth.
On the not-so-good-news side, the report also showed that:
- 65 percent of teens 16 to 19 years old have had tooth decay or fillings in their permanent teeth.
- Smokers had a greater chance of being toothless. Fourteen percent of current smokers older than 20 had lost all their teeth, compared with only 4.6 percent of people who had never smoked.
- About one-third of children and adolescents had enamel fluorosis of their teeth, although most was very mild. Enamel fluorosis happens when the teeth absorb too much fluoride as they develop beneath the gums.
And the report noted that disparities in oral health remain.
For instance, 32 percent of Hispanic children and 27 percent of black children aged 2 to 11 years had untreated decay in their primary (baby) teeth, compared to 18 percent of white children.
Among adults, 16 percent of those with higher incomes had untreated tooth decay, compared to more than one-third of lower-income adults.
In response, the American Dental Association applauded the good news in the report.
But ADA President Dr. Richard Haught, in a prepared statement, added, “The report provides us with another wake-up call that more must be done to improve access to oral health care for lower-income adult Americans, who suffer from twice the untreated tooth decay experienced by their more affluent peers. Minority children also failed to record similar gains as their white counterparts in untreated tooth decay in their primary teeth. Such disparities are unacceptable.”