Oral Health Basics

People getting dental exams and dental poses

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

Cavities (also called tooth decay) are one of the most common chronic diseases in the United States. By age 34, more than 80% of people have had at least one cavity. In 2015, more than 40% of adults felt pain in their mouth. The nation spends more than $124 billion a year on costs related to dental care. On average, over 34 million school hours are lost and over $45 billion is lost in productivity each year due to unplanned (emergency) dental care.

Oral health has been linked with other chronic diseases, like diabetes and heart disease. It is also linked with risk behaviors like using tobacco and eating and drinking foods and beverages high in sugar.

Public health strategies such as community water fluoridation and school sealant programs have been proven to save money and prevent cavities.