Oral Health Basics

People getting dental exams and dental poses

Oral health affects our ability to eat, speak, smile, and show emotions. Oral health also affects a person’s self-esteem, school performance, and attendance at work or school. Oral diseases—which range from cavities and gum disease to oral cancer—cause pain and disability for millions of Americans and cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year.

Cavities (also called tooth decay) are one of the most common chronic diseases in the United States. More than 40% of adults report having felt pain in their mouth within the last year, and more than 80% of people will have had at least one cavity by age 34. The nation spends more than $124 billion on costs related to dental care each year.  On average, over 34 million school hours and more than $45 billion in productivity are lost each year as a result of dental emergencies requiring unplanned care.

Poor oral health is associated with other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Oral disease also is associated with risk behaviors such as using tobacco and consuming sugary foods and beverages.

Public health strategies such as community water fluoridation and school sealant programs are safe and effective interventions proven to prevent cavities and save money.