Children’s Oral Health
Cavities (also known as caries or tooth decay) are one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood in the United States. Untreated cavities can cause pain and infections that may lead to problems with eating, speaking, playing, and learning. Children who have poor oral health often miss more school and receive lower grades than children who don’t.
- More than half of children aged 6 to 8 have had a cavity in at least one of their baby (primary) teeth.
- More than half of adolescents aged 12 to 19 have had a cavity in at least one of their permanent teeth.
- Children aged 5 to 19 years from low-income families are twice as likely (25%) to have cavities, compared with children from higher-income households (11%).
The good news is that cavities are preventable. Fluoride varnish can prevent about one-third (33%) of cavities in the primary (baby) teeth. Children living in communities with fluoridated tap water have fewer cavities than children whose water is not fluoridated. Similarly, children who brush daily with fluoride toothpaste will have fewer cavities.
Dental sealants can also prevent cavities for many years. Applying dental sealants to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth prevent 80% of cavities.
What Parents and Caregivers Can Do
- Wipe gums twice a day with a soft, clean cloth in the morning after the first feeding and right before bed to wipe away bacteria and sugars that can cause cavities.
- When teeth come in, start brushing twice a day with a soft, small‑bristled toothbrush and plain water.
- Visit the dentist by your baby’s first birthday to spot signs of problems early.
- Talk to your dentist or doctor about putting fluoride varnish on your child’s teeth as soon as the first tooth appears.
- For children younger than 2, consult first with your doctor or dentist regarding the use of fluoride toothpaste.
- Brush their teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
- Drink tap water that contains fluoride.
- Ask your child’s dentist to apply dental sealants when appropriate.
If your child is younger than 6, watch them brush. Make sure they use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste and always spit it out rather than swallow. Help your child brush until they have good brushing skills.
To see if your community’s water is fluoridated, you can view your water system on CDC’s My Water’s Fluoride website. You can also call your water utility company and request a copy of the utility’s most recent “Consumer Confidence Report.” This report provides information on the level of fluoride in your drinking (tap) water.
If your drinking water does not have enough fluoride to prevent cavities (the optimal amount of 0.7 milligrams per Liter), ask your dentist, pediatrician, family doctor, or nurse if your child needs oral fluoride supplements, such as drops, tablets, or lozenges.
Good Dental Health Is Important for Pregnant Women
When you’re pregnant, you may be more prone to gum disease and cavities, which can affect your baby’s health. Follow these 3 steps to protect your teeth:
- See a dentist (it's safe!) before you deliver
- Brush twice a day
- Floss Daily
If you have nausea, rinse your mouth with 1 teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water after you get sick. This helps wash stomach acid away and keep your tooth enamel safe.
What Are the Risk Factors for Cavities?
Your child’s chance of getting cavities can be higher if:
Family members (older brothers, sisters, or parents) have cavities.
They eat and drink a lot of sugary foods and drinks, like soda, especially between meals.
They have special health care needs.
They wear braces or orthodontics or oral appliances.
If any of these apply to your child, be sure to talk with your dentist, pediatrician, or family doctor to make sure you are taking extra steps to protect your child’s teeth.
Facts About Adult Oral Health
The baby boomer generation is the first where the majority of people will keep their natural teeth over their entire lifetime. This is largely because of the benefits of water fluoridation and fluoride toothpaste. However, threats to oral health, including tooth loss, continue throughout life.
The major risks for tooth loss are cavities and gum disease that may increase with age because of problems with saliva production; receding gums that expose “softer” root surfaces to decay-causing bacteria; or difficulties flossing and brushing because of poor vision, cognitive problems, chronic disease, and physical limitations.
Although more adults are keeping their teeth, many continue to need treatment for dental problems. This need is even greater for members of some racial and ethnic groups—about 3 in 4 Hispanics and non-Hispanic Black adults have an unmet need for dental treatment, as do people with lower incomes. These individuals are also more likely to report having poor oral health.
In addition, some adults may have difficulty accessing dental treatment. For every adult aged 19 years or older without medical insurance, there are three who don’t have dental insurance.
Oral health problems in adults include the following:
- Untreated cavities. More than 1 in 4 (26%) adults in the United States have untreated tooth decay.
- Adults who are low-income, have less than a high school education, non-Hispanic Black, and current smokers are 2 times more likely to have untreated cavities than comparison groups.
- Gum disease. Nearly half (46%) of all adults aged 30 years or older show signs of gum disease; severe gum disease affects about 9% of adults.
- Tooth loss. If left untreated, cavities and periodontal (gum) disease lead to tooth loss. Severe tooth loss—having 8 or fewer teeth—impacts the ability to eat meats, fruits, and vegetables, and presents yet another challenge to having a healthy diet. Certain chronic conditions are associated with severe tooth loss, which can diminish quality of life and interfere with eating healthy foods.
- Complete tooth loss (edentulism) among adults aged 20-64 years has declined over time, but disparities exist among some population groups.
- The percentage of adults who have lost all their teeth remains higher (6%) among people who are low-income and current smokers, compared to about 1% among those who are higher-income or who have never smoked.
- Oral cancer. Oral cancers are most common in older adults, particularly in people older than 55 years who smoke and are heavy drinkers.
- People treated for cancer who have chemotherapy may suffer from oral problems such as painful mouth ulcers, impaired taste, and dry mouth.
- Chronic diseases. Having a chronic disease, such as arthritis, heart disease or stroke, diabetes, emphysema, hepatitis C, a liver condition, or being obese may increase an individual’s risk of having missing teeth and poor oral health.
- Patients with weakened immune systems, such as those infected with HIV and other medical conditions (organ transplants) and who use some medications (e.g., steroids) are at higher risk for some oral problems.
- Chronic disabling diseases such as jaw joint diseases (TMD), autoimmune conditions such as Sjögren’s Syndrome, and osteoporosis affect millions of Americans and compromise oral health and functioning, more often among women.