Hispanic youth in the US have the most cavities with 52%, a study finds
Black youth in the US have the most untreated cavities: 17.1%
The percentage of young people with dental cavities in the United States dropped from 50% in 2012 to just over 43% in 2016, according to a new study from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although the overall trend is a positive one, young members of minority communities continue to have the highest number of cavities as well as the highest number of untreated cavities, the CDC found in its latest study of dental decay. The findings were based on national data gathered from young people living in the United States aged between 2 and 19, compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics.
The highest prevalence of total and untreated cavities was found among Hispanic and non-Hispanic black youth, according to the study, released Friday. Hispanic youths had the most cavities (52%) compared with black (44.3%), Asian (42.6%) and white (39%) youths. Black youths had the most untreated cavities (17.1%) compared with Hispanic (13.5%), white (11.7%) and Asian (10.5%) youths.
The American Dental Association has tracked the historical trend of racial disparity in oral health care – and its correlation to income levels – over several decades. It has also found that the prevalence has gone down but is still highest in Hispanic and black youth.
Consequences of cavities
The implications of poor oral health are wide-ranging, experts say. Dental cavities are the most common chronic disease among youth ages 6 to 19. If untreated, they can cause pain and infection.
In very rare cases, tooth decay has the potential to be deadly. Study author Dr. Eleanor Fleming cited the case of 12-year-old Maryland boy Deamonte Driver, who died in 2007 due to a severe brain infection caused by dental decay.
If baby teeth have untreated decay, it can have negative implications on the adult teeth. It can also prevent permanent teeth from growing in properly, according to Fleming, a dentist and part of the National Center for Health Statistics’ Division of Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys.
Cavities can lead students to miss school, to not be able to chew properly and to not be able to speak and communicate effectively due to pain, she said.
For many young people, “the most important aspect of how caries (cavities) impacts you is that it impacts your academic performance,” said Dr. Roseann Mulligan, associate dean and professor at the University of Southern California’s Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry.
If you are in constant discomfort, your ability to focus and study suffers, said Mulligan, who was not involved in the new report.
Why are minorities most at risk?
Mulligan cited several reasons why Hispanic and black youth might have the highest prevalence of total and untreated cavities, including socioeconomic status, education level and access to health care.