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Dental Caries (Tooth Decay) in Children (Age 2 to 11)

Dental Caries in Primary (Baby) Teeth

Overall dental caries in the baby teeth of children 2 to 11 declined from the early 1970s until the mid 1990s. From the mid 1990s until the most recent (1999-2004) National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, this trend has reversed: a small but significant increase in primary decay was found. This trend reversal was more severe in younger children. Tables 1 through 4 present selected caries estimates in primary teeth for children aged 2–11 years and for selected subgroups.

Prevalence (Table 1)

  • 42% of children 2 to 11 have had dental caries in their primary teeth.
  • Black and Hispanic children and those living in families with lower incomes have more decay.

Unmet Needs (Table 2)

  • 23% of children 2 to 11 have untreated dental caries.
  • Black and Hispanic children and those living in families with lower incomes have more untreated decay.

Severity (Table 3 and Table 4)

  • Children 2 to 11 have an average of 1.6 decayed primary teeth and 3.6 decayed primary surfaces.
  • Black and Hispanic subgroups and those with lower incomes have more severe decay in primary teeth.
  • Black and Hispanic subgroups and those with lower incomes have more untreated primary teeth.

Dental Caries in Permanent (Adult) Teeth

Dental caries in children’s permanent teeth declined from the early 1970s until the mid 1990s. Significant disparities are found in some population groups. Tables 5 through 8 present selected caries estimates in permanent teeth for children aged 2–11 years and for selected subgroups.

Prevalence (Table 5)

  • 21% of children 6 to 11 have had dental caries in their permanent teeth.
  • Hispanic children and those living in families with lower incomes have more decay in their permanent teeth.

Unmet Needs (Table 6)

  • 8% of children 6 to 11 have untreated decay.
  • Hispanic children and those living in families with lower incomes have more untreated decay.

Severity (Table 7 and Table 8)

  • Children 6 to 11 have about 0.45 decayed permanent teeth and 0.68 decayed permanent surfaces.
  • Black and Hispanic subgroups and those with lower incomes have more severe decay in both permanent teeth and surfaces.
  • Black and Hispanic subgroups and those with lower incomes have more untreated permanent teeth and surfaces.

Units of Measure: Dental caries is measured by a dentist examining a child’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;
  • dt (decayed teeth): this is the number decayed teeth that have not been treated, which measures unmet need; and
  • dft (decayed and filled teeth): this is the sum of ft and dt, 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 Children with Caries in Primary Teeth

Prevalence of caries in primary teeth (dft) among youths 2–11 years of age, by selected characteristics:
United States, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999–2004

Characteristic Percent with caries in primary teeth
Age
2 to 5 years 27.90
6 to 11 years 51.17
Sex
Male 44.43
Female 39.80
Race and Ethnicity
White, non-Hispanic 38.56
Black, non-Hispanic 43.34
Mexican American 55.40
Poverty Status (Income compared to Federal Poverty Level)
Less than 100% 54.33
100% to 199% 48.75
Greater than 200% 32.30
Overall 42.17

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 8 present the latest NHANES (collected between 1999 and 2004) data regarding dental caries in children.

Table 2: Percent of Children with Untreated Decay in Primary Teeth

Prevalence of untreated decay in primary teeth (dt) among youths 2–11 years of age, by selected characteristics:
United States, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999–2004

Characteristic Percent with untreated decay in primary teeth (dt)
Age
2 to 5 years 20.48
6 to 11 years 24.49
Sex
Male 24.16
Female 21.66
Race and Ethnicity
White, non-Hispanic 19.47
Black, non-Hispanic 27.58
Mexican American 33.09
Poverty Status (Income compared to Federal Poverty Level)
Less than 100% 32.52
100% to 199% 28.40
Greater than 200% 15.01
Overall 22.94

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 8 present the latest NHANES (collected between 1999 and 2004) data regarding dental caries in children.

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

Mean number of decayed, filled, and decayed or filled primary teeth among youths 2–11 years of age, by selected characteristics: United States, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999–2004

Characteristic Decayed primary teeth (dt) Filled primary teeth (ft) Total decayed or filled primary teeth (dft)
Age
2 to 5 years 0.71 0.47 1.17
6 to 11 years 0.58 1.26 1.84
Sex
Male 0.66 1.01 1.67
Female 0.59 0.89 1.48
Race and Ethnicity
White, non-Hispanic 0.53 0.93 1.46
Black, non-Hispanic 0.72 0.73 1.45
Mexican American 0.90 1.28 2.18
Poverty Status (Income compared to Federal Poverty Level)
Less than 100% 1.01 1.33 2.34
100% to 199% 0.80 1.09 1.89
Greater than 200% 0.34 0.70 1.07
Overall 0.63 0.95 1.58

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 8 present the latest NHANES (collected between 1999 and 2004) data regarding dental caries in children.

Table 4: Primary Teeth, Severity of Decay Measured by Number of Tooth Surfaces Affected

Mean number of decayed, filled, and decayed or filled primary tooth surfaces among youths 2–11 years of age, by selected characteristics: United States, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999–2004

Characteristic Decayed primary surfaces (ds) Filled primary surfaces (fs) Total decayed or filled primary surfaces (dfs)
Age
2 to 5 years 1.25 1.33 2.58
6 to 11 years 0.98 3.32 4.30
Sex
Male 1.17 2.78 3.95
Female 0.99 2.29 3.28
Race and Ethnicity
White, non-Hispanic 0.92 2.55 3.46
Black, non-Hispanic 1.22 1.80 3.02
Mexican American 1.47 3.25 4.72
Poverty Status (Income compared to Federal Poverty Level)
Less than 100% 1.84 3.79 5.63
100% to 199% 1.39 3.05 4.45
Greater than 200% 0.53 1.75 2.28
Overall 1.08 2.55 3.63

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 8 present the latest NHANES (collected between 1999 and 2004) data regarding dental caries in children.

Tables 5 through 8 present selected caries estimates in permanent teeth for children aged 6–11 years and for selected subgroups.

Units of Measure: Dental caries is measured by a dentist examining a child’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;
  • DT (decayed teeth): this is the number decayed teeth that have not been treated, which measures unmet need; and
  • DFT (decayed and filled teeth): this is the sum of DT 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 tooth decay. The following tables list both methods of measuring tooth decay.

Table 5: Percent of Children with Decay in Permanent Teeth

Prevalence of tooth decay in permanent teeth (DFT) among youths 6–11 years of age, by selected characteristics:
United States, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999–2004

Characteristic Percent with decay in permanent teeth
Age
6 to 8 years 10.16
9 to 11 years 31.36
Sex
Male 19.36
Female 22.87
Race and Ethnicity
White, non-Hispanic 18.59
Black, non-Hispanic 19.03
Mexican American 30.76
Poverty Status (Income compared to Federal Poverty Level)
Less than 100% 28.28
100% to 199% 24.09
Greater than 200% 16.31
Overall 21.06

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 8 present the latest NHANES (collected between 1999 and 2004) data regarding tooth decay (dental caries) in children.

Table 6: Percent of Children with Untreated Decay in Permanent Teeth

Prevalence of untreated tooth decay in permanent teeth (DT) among youths 6–11 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
6 to 8 years 4.05
9 to 11 years 11.05
Sex
Male 7.45
Female 7.91
Race and Ethnicity
White, non-Hispanic 5.56
Black, non-Hispanic 8.55
Mexican American 12.71
Poverty Status (Income compared to Federal Poverty Level)
Less than 100% 11.76
100% to 199% 11.94
Greater than 200% 3.57
Overall 7.65

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 8 present the latest NHANES (collected between 1999 and 2004) data regarding dental caries in children.

Table 7: Permanent Teeth, Severity of Tooth Decay Measured by Number of Teeth Affected

Mean number of decayed, filled, and decayed or filled permanent teeth among youths 6–11 years of age, by selected characteristics: United States, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999–2004

Characteristic Decayed permanent teeth (DT) Filled permanent teeth (FT) Total decayed or filled permanent teeth (DFT)
Age
6 to 8 years 0.06 0.13 0.19
9 to 11 years 0.19 0.50 0.69
Sex
Male 0.11 0.29 0.41
Female 0.14 0.34 0.49
Race and Ethnicity
White, non-Hispanic 0.08 0.29 0.38
Black, non-Hispanic 0.14 0.27 0.43
Mexican American 0.22 0.47 0.70
Poverty Status (Income compared to Federal Poverty Level)
Less than 100% 0.18 0.44 0.63
100% to 199% 0.21 0.33 0.55
Greater than 200% 0.05 0.26 0.32
Overall 0.12 0.32 0.45

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 8 present the latest NHANES (collected between 1999 and 2004) data regarding dental caries in children.

Table 8: Permanent Teeth, Severity of Tooth Decay Measured by Number of Tooth Surfaces Affected

Mean number of decayed, filled, and decayed or filled permanent tooth surfaces among youths 6–11 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
6 to 8 years 0.07 0.19 0.29
9 to 11 years 0.26 0.76 1.06
Sex
Male 0.15 0.45 0.61
Female 0.20 0.52 0.76
Race and Ethnicity
White, non-Hispanic 0.10 0.42 0.55
Black, non-Hispanic 0.21 0.43 0.70
Mexican American 0.30 0.81 1.12
Poverty Status (Income compared to Federal Poverty Level)
Less than 100% 0.28 0.69 1.02
100% to 199% 0.29 0.51 0.82
Greater than 200% 0.06 0.38 0.47
Overall 0.17 0.48 0.68

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 8 present the latest NHANES (collected between 1999 and 2004) data regarding dental caries in children.

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This page last updated: January 06, 2014