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Dental Caries (Tooth Decay) in Adults (Age 20 to 64)

Dental Caries in Permanent (Adult) Teeth

Note: Approximately 5% of adults age 20 to 64 have no teeth. This survey applies only to those adults who have teeth.

Dental caries, both treated and untreated, in all adults age 20 to 64 declined from the early 1970s until the most recent (1999-2004) National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The decrease was significant in all population subgroups. In spite of this decline, significant disparities are still found in some population groups.

Prevalence ( Table 1)

  • 92% of adults 20 to 64 have had dental caries in their permanent teeth.
  • White adults and those living in families with higher incomes and more education have had more decay.

Unmet Needs ( Table 2)

  • 23% of adults 20 to 64 have untreated decay.
  • Black and Hispanic adults, younger adults, and those with lower incomes and less education have more untreated decay.

Severity ( Table 3 and Table 4)

  • Adults 20 to 64 have an average of 3.28 decayed or missing permanent teeth and 13.65 decayed and missing 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 adults aged 20 to 64 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 tooth 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 Adults with Caries in Permanent Teeth

Prevalence of caries in permanent teeth (DMFT) among adults 20 to 64 years of age, by selected characteristics: United States, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999–2004

Characteristic Percent with caries, missing, or filled permanent teeth
Age
20 to 34 years 85.58
35 to 49 years 94.30
50 to 64 years 95.62
Sex
Male 90.57
Female 92.66
Race and Ethnicity
White, non-Hispanic 93.49
Black, non-Hispanic 87.51
Mexican American 82.97
Poverty Status (Income compared to Federal Poverty Level)
Less than 100% 88.69
100% to 199% 88.91
Greater than 200% 93.05
Education
Less than High School 85.93
High School 92.38
More than High School 92.91
Smoking History
Current Smoker 91.48
Former Smoker 92.83
Never Smoked 91.19
Overall 91.63

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 adults.

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

Prevalence of untreated decay in permanent teeth (DT) among adults 20 to 64 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
20 to 34 years 27.88
35 to 49 years 25.56
50 to 64 years 22.14
Sex
Male 28.10
Female 22.96
Race and Ethnicity
White, non-Hispanic 20.84
Black, non-Hispanic 40.45
Mexican American 38.35
Poverty Status (Income compared to Federal Poverty Level)
Less than 100% 43.88
100% to 199% 39.31
Greater than 200% 17.97
Education
Less than High School 45.20
High School 33.03
More than High School 16.48
Smoking History
Current Smoker 39.26
Former Smoker 19.67
Never Smoked 20.56
Overall 25.49

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 adults.

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

Mean number of decayed, filled, and decayed or filled permanent teeth among adults 20 to 64 years of age, by selected characteristics: United States, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999–2004

Characteristic Decayed permanent teeth (DT) Missing permanent teeth (MT) Filled permanent teeth (FT) Total decayed, missing, or filled permanent teeth (DMFT)
Age
20 to 34 years 0.93 0.62 4.61 6.16
35 to 49 years 0.75 2.39 7.78 10.91
50 to 64 years 0.55 5.30 9.20 15.05
Sex
Male 0.87 2.49 6.59 9.95
Female 0.65 2.56 7.49 10.70
Race and Ethnicity
White, non-Hispanic 0.68 2.17 7.82 10.67
Black, non-Hispanic 1.12 4.11 4.55 9.78
Mexican American 0.99 2.42 4.67 8.07
Poverty Status (Income compared to Federal Poverty Level)
Less than 100% 1.51 4.15 4.56 10.22
100% to 199% 1.24 3.98 5.32 10.55
Greater than 200% 0.48 1.95 7.87 10.30
Education
Less than High School 1.58 4.63 4.22 2.54
High School 1.00 3.24 6.58 10.82
More than High School 0.41 1.65 8.04 10.10
Smoking History
Current Smoker 1.42 4.12 5.90 11.44
Former Smoker 0.53 2.30 7.73 10.55
Never Smoked 0.51 1.83 7.31 9.65
Overall 0.76 2.52 7.05 10.33

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 adults.

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

Mean number of decayed, filled, and decayed or filled permanent tooth surfaces among adults 20 to 64 years of age, by selected characteristics: United States, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999–2004

Characteristic Decayed permanent surfaces (DS) Missing permanent surfaces (MS) Filled permanent surfaces (FS) Total decayed, missing, or filled permanent surfaces (DMFS)
Age
20 to 34 years 1.73 3.04 8.62 13.39
35 to 49 years 1.55 11.52 18.38 31.46
50 to 64 years 1.22 25.31 27.35 53.87
Sex
Male 1.81 11.91 16.06 29.77
Female 1.26 12.34 18.52 32.12
Race and Ethnicity
White, non-Hispanic 1.36 10.44 19.58 31.38
Black, non-Hispanic 2.46 19.76 9.68 31.89
Mexican American 1.83 11.63 10.68 24.14
Poverty Status (Income compared to Federal Poverty Level)
Less than 100% 3.28 19.88 10.22 33.38
100% to 199% 2.56 19.09 11.94 33.59
Greater than 200% 0.94 9.39 19.50 29.83
Education
Less than High School 3.50 22.12 9.38 35.00
High School 1.94 15.56 16.04 33.53
More than High School 0.78 7.97 20.04 28.78
Smoking History
Current Smoker 3.10 19.66 14.47 37.23
Former Smoker 0.98 11.06 19.64 31.67
Never Smoked 0.93 8.84 17.47 27.24
Overall 1.53 12.12 17.31 30.96

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 adults.

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This page last updated: May 28, 2014