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Dental Caries (Tooth Decay) in Seniors (Age 65 and Over)

Dental Caries in Permanent (Adult) Teeth

Note: Approximately 5% of seniors age 65 and older have no teeth. This survey applies only to those seniors who have teeth.

Dental caries, both treated and untreated, in seniors age 65 and older 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 seniors 65 and older have had dental caries in their permanent teeth.
  • White seniors and those living in families with higher incomes and more education have had more decay.

Unmet Needs (Table 2)

  • 23% of seniors 65 and older have untreated decay.
  • Black and Hispanic seniors and those with lower incomes and less education have more untreated decay.

Severity (Table 3 and Table 4)

  • Seniors 65 and older 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 seniors aged 65 and older 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 Seniors with Caries in Permanent Teeth

Prevalence of caries in permanent teeth (DMFT) among seniors 65 and older years of age, by selected characteristics: United States, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999–2004

Characteristic Percent with decay, missing, or filled permanent teeth
Age
65 to 74 years 93.25
75 years or more 92.70
Sex
Male 93.64
Female 92.49
Race and Ethnicity
White, non-Hispanic 94.86
Black, non-Hispanic 80.20
Mexican American 83.82
Poverty Status (Income compared to Federal Poverty Level)
Less than 100% 83.47
100% to 199% 90.92
Greater than 200% 95.53
Education
Less than High School 83.73
High School 94.27
More than High School 97.04
Smoking History
Current Smoker 89.28
Former Smoker 93.48
Never Smoked 93.01
Overall 93.00

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 seniors.

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

Prevalence of untreated decay in permanent teeth (DT) among seniors 65 and older 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
65 to 74 years 17.07
75 years or more 19.52
Sex
Male 20.42
Female 16.43
Race and Ethnicity
White, non-Hispanic 15.92
Black, non-Hispanic 36.78
Mexican American 41.19
Poverty Status (Income compared to Federal Poverty Level)
Less than 100% 33.22
100% to 199% 23.82
Greater than 200% 14.22
Education
Less than High School 26.16
High School 17.68
More than High School 14.30
Smoking History
Current Smoker 27.28
Former Smoker 18.74
Never Smoked 16.58
Overall 18.18

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 Seniors.

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

Mean number of decayed, filled, and decayed or filled permanent teeth among seniors 65 and older 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
65 to 74 years 0.39 8.32 8.96 17.68
75 years or more 0.47 9.41 8.42 18.30
Sex
Male 0.53 8.67 8.37 17.57
Female 0.35 8.96 8.99 18.30
Race and Ethnicity
White, non-Hispanic 0.36 8.30 9.57 18.23
Black, non-Hispanic 1.04 12.61 3.25 16.90
Mexican American 1.10 9.74 4.26 15.11
Poverty Status (Income compared to Federal Poverty Level)
Less than 100% 1.01 12.19 4.10 17.30
100% to 199% 0.58 10.79 6.84 18.21
Greater than 200% 0.29 7.61 10.24 18.15
Education
Less than High School 0.77 11.99 4.92 17.68
High School 0.38 9.58 8.39 18.35
More than High School 0.28 6.71 10.91 17.90
Smoking History
Current Smoker 0.82 12.45 5.68 18.95
Former Smoker 0.42 9.58 8.41 18.40
Never Smoked 0.39 7.76 9.31 17.46
Overall 0.43 8.81 8.71 17.96

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 seniors.

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

Mean number of decayed, filled, and decayed or filled permanent tooth surfaces among seniors 65 and older 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
65 to 74 years 0.92 39.59 29.36 69.88
75 years or more 1.37 44.69 28.03 74.08
Sex
Male 1.40 41.13 27.49 70.02
Female 0.92 42.64 29.80 73.36
Race and Ethnicity
White, non-Hispanic 0.95 39.53 31.88 72.36
Black, non-Hispanic 2.64 59.49 8.76 70.89
Mexican American 3.08 46.12 12.99 62.19
Poverty Status (Income compared to Federal Poverty Level)
Less than 100% 2.85 57.48 12.21 72.54
100% to 199% 1.42 51.14 21.37 33.59
Greater than 200% 0.72 36.32 34.57 71.61
Education
Less than High School 2.15 56.54 14.76 73.46
High School 0.98 45.66 26.76 33.53
More than High School 0.66 32.06 37.32 70.04
Smoking History
Current Smoker 2.36 58.55 18.96 79.87
Former Smoker 1.01 45.48 28.33 74.82
Never Smoked 1.06 37.01 30.18 27.24
Overall 1.12 41.90 28.76 71.78

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 seniors.

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This page last updated: January 06, 2014