There are several ways to measure access to dental care and dental service utilization, including asking people when they last visited a dentist; determining their judgment of the health of their own mouth; and directly measuring the amount of tooth decay that remains untreated. In general, most of these measures have improved in recent years, although disparities remain among some population groups. However, the number of people who consider their own oral health to be excellent or good has decreased in recent years. Because oral health in general has improved over this time period, it may be that the trend in self-reported oral health reflects increased expectations.
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. Click on the links below for details about trends in dental caries as well as detailed caries data from the most recent survey (1999-2004).