About Oral Health

Key points

  • Oral health allows us to eat, speak, smile, and show emotions.
  • Poor oral health can lead to pain, poor school performance, productivity losses, and lowered quality of life.
  • Oral diseases — which range from cavities and gum disease to oral cancer — are largely preventable with a combination of professional and self-care.
Happy woman in dental chair


Oral health refers to health of the teeth, gums, and entire oral-facial system.

Many children and adults experience poor oral health due to common oral diseases such as cavities (tooth decay) and periodontal (gum) disease—both of which are the leading causes of tooth loss.1

In the United States, more than half of children and adolescents aged 12–19 (57%) and almost all adults 20 or older (90% or more as age increases) have had cavities in their permanent teeth. Although dental sealants can be used to prevent cavities, less than half of US children aged 6–11 (42%) have dental sealants on any of their permanent teeth.2

About 34 million school hours and 92 million work hours are lost yearly due to unplanned and emergency dental care services.34 Roughly $46 billion dollars of US productivity (2015 US dollars) is lost yearly due to untreated oral diseases.5

While oral health affects our ability to do things like eat, speak, and smile, oral health is also connected to our overall health. For example, poor periodontal (gum) health can worsen glycemic control (blood sugar level) in people living with diabetes.6 A growing number of studies show that people living with certain chronic conditions more often have untreated oral diseases or conditions.789


Some of the most common diseases and conditions that impact our oral health include:

  • Cavities (tooth decay)
  • Periodontal (gum) diseases
  • Oral cancers
  • Tooth loss


Things you can do to support your oral health include:10

  • Brushing twice daily.
  • Flossing daily.
  • Limiting foods and beverages that are high in added sugar.
  • Having at least a yearly dental check-up and professional cleanings.
  • Having additional dental visits if recommended by your health care provider.

Sometimes an oral disease may not cause any pain or signs that you can easily see until the disease has reached a more serious stage. Having a professional evaluation is part of why routine dental check-ups are so important.

Dental check-ups can also be a time when you and your provider discuss your unique risks for developing oral diseases, and how to help protect your oral health.

For more information about preventing oral disease across the lifespan, see CDC’s Preventing Oral Diseases.

What CDC is doing

CDC's Division of Oral Health (DOH) provides leadership to improve the nation's oral health. We promote proven interventions, such as community water fluoridation and dental sealants, to reduce the rate of cavities, especially for people at highest risk. We also support data collection efforts to help monitor progress towards improving the nation's oral health.

Community Water Fluoridation

Community water fluoridation provides a safe, cost-effective, and widely accessible way to help prevent cavities.111213 Drinking fluoridated water has been shown to reduce cavities by up to 25% in children and adults.11141516 Fluoride helps prevent cavities by rebuilding, strengthening, and protecting a tooth’s surface.17

Almost all water contains some naturally occurring level of fluoride. Community water fluoridation is the process of adjusting that amount of fluoride in our drinking water to a level recommended for preventing cavities.1112

For more information, see CDC's Community Water Fluoridation.

For information about your local water system's fluoridation status, see CDC's My Water's Fluoride.

School Sealant Programs

Dental sealants can prevent cavities for many years.18 School sealant programs are an effective way to help prevent cavities among children across the nation, especially those who may not otherwise have access to dental care.19

For more information about sealants and their benefits, see CDC's About Dental Sealants.

Oral Health Surveillance

DOH supports data collection efforts to monitor trends in the presence of oral diseases, to gain information about access to dental care, and to better understand how oral health impacts quality of life among people across the nation.

DOH’s support of oral health-related data collection through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey helps monitor progress towards several Healthy People 2030 objectives.

More Ways CDC Improves Oral Health

DOH efforts to improve oral health include:

  • Developing and promoting infection prevention and control guidelines for dental settings.
  • Working to integrate medical and dental care.
  • Funding state, territorial, and tribal oral health programs.
  • Hosting the CDC Dental Public Health Residency Program.
  • Conducting oral health-related research.
  • Partnering with organizations that support the DOH mission.
  1. Kassebaum NJ, Bernabe E, Dahiya M, Bhandari B, Murray CJ, Marcenes W. Global burden of severe tooth loss: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Dent Res. 2014;93(7 Suppl):20S–28S. doi:10.1177/0022034514537828
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Oral Health Surveillance Report: trends in dental caries and sealants, tooth retention, and edentulism, United States, 1999–2004 to 2011–2016. US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2019. Accessed November 29, 2023.
  3. Naavaal S, Kelekar U. School hours lost due to acute/unplanned dental care. Health Behav Policy Rev. 2018;5(2):66–73. https://doi.org/10.14485/HBPR.5.2.7
  4. Kelekar U, Naavaal S. Hours lost to planned and unplanned dental visits among US adults. Prev Chronic Dis. 2018;15(E04). doi: 10.5888/pcd15.170225
  5. Righolt AJ, Jevdjevic M, Marcenes W, Listl S. Global-, regional-, and country-level economic impacts of dental diseases in 2015. J Dent Res. 2018;97(5):501–507. doi:10.1177/0022034517750572
  6. Simpson TC, Clarkson JE, Worthington HV, et al. Treatment of periodontitis for glycaemic control in people with diabetes mellitus. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2022;4(4):CD004714. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004714.pub4
  7. Wei L, Griffin SO, Parker M, Thornton-Evans GO. Dental health status, use, and insurance coverage among adults with chronic conditions: implications for medical-dental integration in the United States. J Am Dent Assoc. 2022;153(6):563–571. doi: 10.1016/j.adaj.2021.12.012
  8. Parker ML, Thornton-Evans GO, Wei L, Griffin SO. Prevalence of and changes in tooth loss among adults aged ≥50 years with selected chronic conditions — United States, 1999–2004 and 2011–2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69:641–646.
  9. Griffin SO, Jones JA, Brunson D, Griffin PM, Bailey WD. Burden of oral disease among older adults and implications for public health priorities. Am J Public Health. 2012;102:411–418. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2011.300362
  10. US Department of Health and Human Services. Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General. National Institutes of Health; 2000. Accessed December 12, 2023. nidcr.nih.gov/sites/default/files/2017-10/hck1ocv.%40www.surgeon.fullrpt.pdf
  11. US Department of Health and Human Services Federal Panel on Community Water Fluoridation. US Public Health Service recommendation for fluoride concentration in drinking water for the prevention of dental caries. Public Health Rep. 2015;130(4):318–331. doi:10.1177/003335491513000408
  12. Community Preventive Services Task Force. Dental caries (cavities): community water fluoridation. The Community Guide. Accessed December 4, 2023. https://www.thecommunityguide.org/findings/dental-caries-cavities-community-water-fluoridation.html
  13. Ran T, Chattopadhyay SK, Community Preventive Services Task Force. Economic Evaluation of Community Water Fluoridation: A Community Guide Systematic Review. Am J Prev Med. 2016;50(6):790–796. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2015.10.014
  14. Iheozor-Ejiofor Z, Worthington HV, Walsh T, et al. Water fluoridation for the prevention of dental caries. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;(6): CD010856. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD010856.pub2
  15. Griffin SO, Regnier E, Griffin PM, Huntley V. Effectiveness of fluoride in preventing caries in adults. J Dent Res. 2007;86(5):410–415. doi:10.1177/154405910708600504
  16. Brunelle JA, Carlos JP. Recent trends in dental caries in U.S. children and the effect of water fluoridation. J Dent Res. 1990;69(Spec Iss): 723–727. doi:10.1177/00220345900690S141.
  17. ten Cate JM, Featherstone JD. Mechanistic aspects of the interactions between fluoride and dental enamel. Crit Rev Oral Biol Med. 1991;2(3):283–296. doi:10.1177/10454411910020030101
  18. Ahovuo-Saloranta A, Forss H, Walsh T, Nordblad A, Mäkelä M, Worthington HV. Pit and fissure sealants for preventing dental decay in permanent teeth. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;7(7):CD001830. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001830.pub5
  19. Griffin SO, Naavaal S, Scherrer C, Patel M, Chattopadhyay S, Community Preventive Services Task Force. Evaluation of school-based dental sealant programs: an updated community guide systematic economic review. Am J Prev Med. 2017;52(3):407–415. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2016.10.004