August 25, 2005

Tooth decay in US falls sharply in kids – CDC

By Paul Simao

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Tooth decay fell sharply in the United
States among children and teenagers and dipped among adults
during the past decade, the federal government said on
Thursday, citing fluoridation of water and toothpaste as a
major cause for the improvement.

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
found 42 percent of kids aged 6 to 19 had had a cavity or
filling in their permanent teeth when examined between 1999 and
2002, a 15-percent decrease from the 1988-1994 period.

Tooth decay among adults fell between 4 and 6 percent, with
20 percent fewer over the age of 60 reporting they had lost all
their teeth, the Atlanta-based CDC said.

"This reduced decay in all ages is really a reflection of
the widespread availability of fluoride," said Dr. William
Maas, director of the CDC's division of oral health. "It works
for all ages."

The United States, amid some political opposition, began
adding fluoride to its water supply in the 1950s to improve
dental health. Opposition grew in the 1970s amid reports of
higher rates of bone disease and other illnesses in those
living in fluoridated communities.

Mass said the increased use of dental sealants, thin
plastic coatings applied to the chewing surfaces of back teeth
to prevent pit and fissure decay, also had contributed to the
progress among kids and adolescents.

These sealants are not typically used in adults because the
type of decay they prevent begins early in life. There was a
64-percent increase in their use in kids and teens between the
two survey periods.

But the rosier picture was clouded by data showing smoking
and poverty continuing to take a toll on dental health.

Smokers were about three times more likely to have lost all
their teeth than those who did not smoke and lower-income
adults were about twice as likely to have untreated tooth decay
than those with higher incomes.

The CDC said programs that increased access to dental care
among minorities and lower-income people might be effective in
reducing some of the disparities in oral health.