The American Dental Association (ADA) called the statistics on the high prevalence of dental caries (cavities) among US adults released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week sobering. According to the CDC, 91% of Americans over 20 have had cavities at some point in their lives. Notably, the agency reports that 27% of adults over 20 have untreated caries.
“Despite all the advances in our ability to prevent, detect, and treat dental disease, too many Americans—for a variety of reasons—are not enjoying the best possible oral health,” said Maxine Feinberg, DDS, president of the ADA.
Feinberg noted the substantially greater rates of untreated disease among African Americans (42%) and Hispanics (36%), saying, “The disproportionate rates of disease among some minorities is particularly disturbing and underscores the need for greater outreach to these underserved populations.”
According to the ADA Health Policy Institute, dental care utilization in 2012 was at its lowest level among working age adults since the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey began tracking dental care use in 1996. Adults who do not plan to visit a dentist in the next 12 months most frequently cite cost and the belief that they do not need dental care as reasons.
Responding to the continued need to improve the nation’s oral health, the ADA in 2013 launched Action for Dental Health, a nationwide, community-based movement to provide care now to people who already suffer from untreated disease, strengthen and expand the public/private safety net, and increase dental health education and disease prevention.
Feinberg emphasized the ADA’s belief that prevention is the ultimate answer to eliminating the vast majority of dental disease.
“We know that prevention works. While it is critical to treat disease that has already occurred, the public health community needs to increase its focus on proven means of preventing it,” she said. “Community water fluoridation, sealant programs for children, teaching people how to take care of their families’ teeth and gums, and getting the greatest possible number of children and adults into dental homes are the keys to better oral health for everyone.
“We are doubling down, and we urge the broader health care community, federal, state, and local officials, the private sector—everyone with a stake in a healthier, more productive nation—to join us.”