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Dental Caries (Tooth Decay) in Adolescents (Age 12 to 19)

Dental Caries in Permanent (Adult) Teeth

Dental caries, both treated and untreated, in all adolescents age 12 to 19 declined from the early 1970s until the most recent (1999-2004) National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The decrease was significant in all but two population subgroups (Mexican-Americans and those living in households between 100% and 199% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). In spite of this decline, significant disparities are still found in some population groups.

Prevalence (Table 1)

  • 59% of adolescents 12 to 19 have had dental caries in their permanent teeth.
  • Hispanic adolescents and those living in families with lower incomes have more decay.

Unmet Needs (Table 2)

  • 20% of adolescents 12 to 19 have untreated decay.
  • Black and Hispanic children and those living in families with lower incomes have more untreated decay.

Severity (Table 3 and Table 4)

  • Adolescents 12 to 19 have an average of 0.54 decayed or missing permanent teeth and 1.03 decayed permanent surfaces.
  • Hispanic subgroups and those with lower incomes have more severe decay in permanent teeth.
  • Black and Hispanic subgroups and those with lower incomes have more untreated permanent teeth.

Tables 1 through 4 present selected caries estimates in permanent teeth for adolescents aged 12–19 years and for selected subgroups.

Units of Measure: Dental caries is measured by a dentist examining a person’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;
  • DMT (decayed and missing teeth): this is the number decayed and missing teeth that have not been treated, which measures unmet need; and
  • DMFT (decayed, missing, and filled teeth): this is the sum of DMT and FT, 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.

Table 1: Percent of Adolescents with Caries in Permanent Teeth

Prevalence of caries in permanent teeth (DMFT) among adolescents 12-19 years of age, by selected characteristics:
United States, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999–2004

Characteristic Percent with caries in permanent teeth
Age
12 to 15 years 50.67
16 to 19 years 67.49
Sex
Male 55.66
Female 62.74
Race and Ethnicity
White, non-Hispanic 58.08
Black, non-Hispanic 54.36
Mexican American 64.49
Poverty Status (Income compared to Federal Poverty Level)
Less than 100% 65.55
100% to 199% 64.40
Greater than 200% 54.00
Overall 59.11

Data Source: The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) has been an important source of information on oral health and dental care in the United States since the early 1970s. Tables 1 through 4 present the latest NHANES (collected between 1999 and 2004) data regarding dental caries in adolescents.

Table 2: Percent of Adolescents with Untreated Decay in Permanent Teeth

Prevalence of untreated tooth decay in permanent teeth (DT) among adolescents 12-19 years of age, by selected characteristics: United States, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999–2004

Characteristic Percent with untreated decay in permanent teeth (DT)
Age
12 to 15 years 16.91
16 to 19 years 22.24
Sex
Male 19.89
Female 19.31
Race and Ethnicity
White, non-Hispanic 16.22
Black, non-Hispanic 25.66
Mexican American 28.57
Poverty Status (Income compared to Federal Poverty Level)
Less than 100% 27.15
100% to 199% 27.02
Greater than 200% 12.86
Overall 19.59

Data Source: The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) has been an important source of information on oral health and dental care in the United States since the early 1970s. Tables 1 through 4 present the latest NHANES (collected between 1999 and 2004) data regarding dental caries in adolescents.

Table 3: Adolescents, Severity of Decay Measured by Number of Permanent Teeth Affected

Mean number of decayed, filled, and decayed or filled permanent teeth among adolescents 12-19 years of age, by selected characteristics: United States, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999–2004

Characteristic Decayed permanent teeth (DMT) Filled permanent teeth (FT) Total decayed, missing, or filled permanent teeth (DMFT)
Age
12 to 15 years 0.39 1.38 1.78
16 to 19 years 0.68 2.63 3.31
Sex
Male 0.58 1.74 2.31
Female 0.49 2.29 2.79
Race and Ethnicity
White, non-Hispanic 0.48 2.06 2.54
Black, non-Hispanic 0.65 1.55 2.20
Mexican American 0.69 2.12 2.82
Poverty Status (Income compared to Federal Poverty Level)
Less than 100% 0.71 2.17 2.88
100% to 199% 0.79 2.02 2.81
Greater than 200% 0.34 1.94 2.28
Overall 0.54 2.01 2.55

Data Source: The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) has been an important source of information on oral health and dental care in the United States since the early 1970s. Tables 1 through 4 present the latest NHANES (collected between 1999 and 2004) data regarding dental caries in adolescents.

Table 4: Adolescents, Severity of Decay Measured by Number of Permanent Tooth Surfaces Affected

Mean number of decayed, filled, and decayed or filled permanent tooth surfaces among adolescents12-19 years of age, by selected characteristics: United States, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999–2004

Characteristic Decayed permanent surfaces (DS) Filled permanent surfaces (FS) Total decayed or filled permanent surfaces (DFS)
Age
12 to 15 years 0.67 2.19 2.85
16 to 19 years 1.37 4.41 5.79
Sex
Male 1.07 2.84 3.92
Female 0.97 3.77 4.74
Race and Ethnicity
White, non-Hispanic 0.90 3.42 4.32
Black, non-Hispanic 1.35 2.54 3.88
Mexican American 1.19 3.51 4.69
Poverty Status (Income compared toFederal Poverty Level)
Less than 100% 1.33 3.66 4.99
100% to 199% 1.47 3.41 4.88
Greater than 200% 0.61 3.14 3.75
Overall 1.03 3.30 4.33

Data Source: The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) has been an important source of information on oral health and dental care in the United States since the early 1970s. Tables 1 through 4 present the latest NHANES (collected between 1999 and 2004) data regarding dental caries in adolescents.

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This page last updated: January 06, 2014