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Dental health study offers reasons to smile

Fri., Aug. 26, 2005

WASHINGTON – Americans have healthier teeth than they had a decade ago.

The average number of cavities is down and people are keeping their teeth longer, according to a federal study released Thursday.

The tooth decay decline was greatest among kids but holds “across every group,” said Dr. William Maas, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Oral Health. The unit’s study compared U.S. dental health in two periods: between 1988-1994 and 1999-2002.

Although all racial, economic and age groups showed improvement, the study found that lower-income people and minorities had more dental problems than other groups.

“There’s always been a disparity,” Maas said.

The survey found that in the more recent period:

•Only two out of five kids ages 6 to 19 had cavities in their lives. That’s down from half a decade ago.

•The proportion of people age 60 who’d lost all their teeth had decreased from 1 in 3 to 1 in 4.

•Use of dental sealants, which block tooth decay in kids’ vulnerable molars, was up 64 percent. Three out of 10 kids had at least one sealed tooth.

•Adults with more than high school degrees had an average of three more teeth than those without high school degrees, 25 vs. 22.

•Smokers remain three times more likely than non-smokers to lose all their teeth.

Maas credited the improvements to water fluoridation, which now reaches two-thirds of Americans, and widespread use of fluoridated toothpaste.

Another factor: new and less painful techniques for treating tooth decay that don’t scare as many people away from dentists. Maas also said that school-based efforts urging low-income kids to brush their teeth and see dentists were paying off.

The CDC’s report is based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, an annual study of representative samples of America’s population. The complete report is available online at


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