Dental cavities in U.S. children decline

The prevalence of dental cavities in U.S. children and teens is decreasing.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study from the National Center for Health Statistics that showed the prevalence of dental cavities for ages 2 to 19 has dropped from 50 percent in 2011-12 to 43 percent in 2015-16.

Hispanic youths had the highest prevalence of cavities in the United States at 52 percent, compared with African Americans at just over 44 percent, Asians about 42 percent, and Caucasians at 39 percent. Non-Hispanic black youths had the highest prevalence of untreated cavities, according to the data.

Overall, the percentage of children with cavities decreased as income level increased.

Mark Goldstein, a pediatric dentist and founding board member of the nonprofit Kids Smiles, which aims to provide oral health for children in underserved areas, said pediatric oral health has become more of a priority in the last decade.

“There are wonderful things happening in our profession that are supporting the oral health care of children – especially in underserved children,” said Goldstein, who is also a managing partner of Pediatric Dental Associates, which has three Philadelphia offices and two suburban locations.

Fluoride treatments, diet, regular brushing, and checkups have all helped control tooth decay, he said.

Anecdotally, Goldstein hasn’t seen much of a noticeable change in his city practices.

“The level of decay is essentially the same,” said Goldstein. The group saw about 100,000 children in the city last year.

“We are still doing the same amount of full mouth rehabilitation on babies,” he said. The main cause of extensive dental work such as multiple fillings and root canals among children is “baby bottle syndrome,” which can develop if the toddler is allowed to sleep with a bottle of juice or milk, Goldstein said.

“Water will not hurt the child,” he said. Goldstein suggests parents add a drop of vegetable coloring to mimic their child’s favorite fruit juice.

“There is really no reason to lose a tooth in this day and age,” Goldstein said. Baby teeth are important for speech development, the ability to chew, and maintaining space for the adult teeth, he said.

Ideally, children should see a dentist sometime between their first and second birthdays to develop a home care plan and get them into a routine of going to the dentist twice a year, Goldstein said.

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