Contributor: Raza Qadir
When surveying the oral health landscape for the most prevalent chronic diseases, it may appear surprising that dental caries, or tooth decay, lies at the top of the list.
The ubiquity of tooth decay among Americans impacts an astonishing proportion of all ages. 9 out of every 10 adults over the age of 40, 50% of children aged 12-15, and around a quarter of the children aged two to five are affected by tooth decay in the United States (1). However, compared to many of the other prevalent oral illnesses, dental caries is one that is rather easily preventable through basic education and practicing healthy nutrition and hygiene habits.
Despite the implementation of water fluoridation, which has led to a decrease in tooth decay in children, the numbers still remain very high. Children are often given the old scare of a cavity to hold back on the Halloween candy, and it is often tooth decay that leads to cavity formation. The sticky bacteria that forms on teeth, also referred to as plaque, is directly responsible. This bacteria produces acids that degrade the enamel on the surface of teeth, and dentin, the surface directly underneath it.
This epidemic is one that has disproportionately affected children of lower economic statuses, as well as Hispanic and African-American children. Dr. Scott Hamilton, a pediatric dentist at Children's Hospital Colorado estimates about 80% of the cavities are in about 20% of kids (3). This small percentage of the adolescent population may be suffering from oral health disparities which results in higher cavity rates. Factors contributing to the epidemic are lack of dentists in these communities and the lower likelihood of receiving preventative dental care. In hospitals such as Children’s Hospital Colorado, it is common for children to undergo multiple tooth extractions due to the effects of cavities. In addition to dental checkups, identifying symptoms is also a key factor. Pain, toothache, sensitivity, holes, and colored stains are all associated with tooth decay.
One of the main tips for preventing dental caries is limiting carbohydrate and sugar intake. If consumed, ensuring the removal of lingering sugars on tooth surfaces via frequent brushing and flossing is imperative. This nagging illness is not only a source of pain and discomfort, but also can be an aesthetic hinderance. Simple tasks such as talking, eating, drinking, and learning at school can also become problematic as a result of the pain and infection. Following these simple precautions and using basic oral hygiene habits can go a long way towards limiting the suffering from this miniscule, yet problematic disease.
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Daley, John. "Tooth Decay: A Silent Epidemic, Especially for Poor Kids in Colo." Colorado Public Radio.
"Dental Health and Cavities: Myths and Facts." WebMD. WebMD,