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Untreated Dental Caries (Cavities) in Children Ages 2-19, United States

Over 19% of children ages 2-19 have untreated cavities; a child's complete preventive dental program should include fluoride, twice-daily brushing, wise food choices, and regular dental care.

Chart: Untreated Dental Caries (Cavities) in Children Ages 2-19, United States. 2-5 years: 1971-1974 (25%); 1998-1994 (19.1%); 2001-2004 (19.5%). 6-19 years: 1971-1974 (54.7%); 1988-1994 (23.6%); 2001-2004 (22.9%).

In recognition of National Children's Dental Health Month, CDC is highlighting data about untreated cavities in children. It's a great time to check whether your children have had dental exams in the past 6 months. If not, please schedule them as soon as possible. CDC is rerunning this data & statistics feature to emphasize the importance of untreated cavities in kids.

CDC is highlighting data about untreated dental caries (cavities) in children ages 2-19 in the United States, during three time periods: 1971-1974; 1988-1994; and 2001-2004. While percentages of untreated cavities have declined from 1971-1974 (25.0% in children ages 2-5 and 54.7% in children ages 6-19), data for the most recent time period still show high levels of untreated cavities: 19.5% in children ages 2-5 and 22.9% in children ages 6-19.

Sex Not a Significant Factor

A breakout by sex shows similar percentages during each time period by age group. Among 2-5 year olds, males had 26.4% untreated cavities in 1971-1974; 19.3% in 1988-1994 and 20.0% in 2001-2004; respectively, females had 23.6% untreated cavities in 1971-1974; 18.9% in 1988-1994 and 20.1% in 2001-2004. Among 6-19 year olds, percentages of cavities dropped by more than half from 1971-1974 data to the later for both sexes (54.9% in males and 54.5% in females) to the 1988-1994 (22.8% in males and 24.5% in females) and 2001-2004 (23.9% in males and 22.0% in females) time periods.

Race and Hispanic Origin a Significant Factor

Black, non-Hispanic children and Hispanic children of Mexican origin had significantly higher percentages of untreated cavities than white, non-Hispanic children. In the two time periods for which data are available for all races, 1988-1994 and 2001-2004, respectively, 13.8% and 14.5% of white, non-Hispanic children ages 2-5 had untreated cavities, as compared with 24.7% and 24.2% of black, non-Hispanic children ages 2-5 and 34.9% and 29.2% of Hispanic children of Mexican origin ages 2-5. For 6-19 year olds in 1988-1994 and 2001-2004, respectively, the percentages were 18.8% and 19.4% of white, non-Hispanic children, 33.7% and 28.1% of black, non-Hispanic children and 36.5% and 30.6% of Hispanic children of Mexican origin.

Percent of Poverty Level a Significant Factor

In 2001-2004, 26.1% of 2-5 year olds and 31.5% of 6-19 year olds below 100% of the poverty level had untreated cavities, as compared with 25.4% of 2-5 year olds and 32.7% of 6-19 year olds between 100% and less than 200% of the poverty level. In contrast, only 12.1% of 2-5 year olds and 14.7% of 16-19 year olds

Untreated dental caries, or cavities, refers to untreated coronal caries, that is, caries on the crown or enamel surface of the tooth. Root tips are classified as coronal caries. Root caries are not included. For children 2–5 years of age, only dental caries in primary teeth were evaluated. Caries in both permanent and primary teeth were evaluated for children 6–11 years of age. For children 12–19 years of age, only dental caries in permanent teeth were evaluated.

Chart: Untreated Dental Caries (Cavities) in Children Ages 2-19, by Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin, and Percent of Poverty Level, United States

Data Source:

National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2009 With Special Feature on Medical Technology. Hyattsville, MD: 2010 [PDF 10.31MB].

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