Cavities in Kids – Cup Half Full

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Progress is being made is the fight against untreated dental caries or cavities for little kids. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of children who have untreated tooth decay has decreased. While that may seem like good news, the cup is only half full with a lot of children not getting dental care to prevent and address cavities.

The CDC report showed “good news” that almost one-fourth of children ages 2 to 5 had cavities in their baby teeth, which is a decrease from previous studies. However, it also showed that 3 out of 5 adolescents have untreated cavities in their permanent teeth.

The data comes from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a robust sample of national health trends. In its studies of information on children ages 2 to 5 during 2011 and 2o12, the CDC found that 23 percent of had existing cavities, down from 28 percent during similar studies from 1999 to 2004. This meant that fewer children had dental pain and untreated baby teeth issues that could affect their permanent teeth. While a five-point reduction is an encouraging sign, the numbers still indicate a lot of children are not receiving adequate dental care.

The fact that the numbers grew after children reached school age, provides further evidence that those aged 6 to 19 are not having cavities repaired or preventing tooth decay. Additionally, as children age racial disparities in tooth decay rates disappear and cavities do not discriminate. For children under age 8, 46 percent of Hispanic children and 44 percent of black children had cavities, whereas only 31 percent of white children did. However, the margin of difference dropped as the children aged and the gap by race was just 4 percent for those between 12- and 19-years-old.

In general, tooth decay has been declining in frequency. Back in the 1960s, an estimated 75 percent of children had cavities in their permanent teeth by the time they turned 11 (compared with 25 percent today). Tooth decay is still a problem for many children, who have difficulty eating and paying attention in school.

While there is more work to do, the fact that there is any improvement is encouraging and, maybe, those younger children showing an improvement will continue to as the children age. But, realistically, the data does reflect only two years and may not be “statistically significant.” However, they do show a positive change. After the 2007 report was released (with the data from 1999 through 2004) and shocked dentists, there was a lot of discussion and dental policy changes.

The dental profession has spent the last nearly 20 years emphasizing preventive care. Additionally, the number of pediatric dentists has reportedly doubled in the last 15 years. Additionally, one part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that did not attract a lot of attention is the inclusion of pediatric dental care along with medical insurance coverage. So all children covered by newer ACA policies available through the exchanges or small business marketplace include preventive and restorative dental care for children so they may get better care as they hit their teen years.

The data released by the CDC showed that the cup is half full in terms of improvements in cavities in kids. The CDC will be conducting a longer and more comprehensive survey in the future to see if progress continues.

By Dyanne Weiss

New York Times
Dr. Bicuspid