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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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.

Last Reviewed
July 2018