Bad News, But Plenty of Good
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a data brief showing that the dental health of U.S. adults is a good news, bad news kind of story. Let’s start with the bad news. Relying on data collected in 2011-12, the CDC reported that roughly nine in 10 adults aged 20-64 had experienced tooth decay. This finding is a reminder that tooth decay afflicts people throughout the lifespan.
Now, for the good news, and there is plenty of it.
First, the portion of seniors who have suffered complete loss of their teeth or “edentulism” — something that was once common — has continued its downward trend. The 2011-12 data revealed that only 18.6% of Americans ages 65 and older had lost all of their natural teeth. This is a drop from 2005-2008 data showing that 22.9% of seniors had lost all of their teeth.
Second, the extent of tooth decay among adults has dropped significantly over the past 50 years. As federal officials recently reported, the average number of affected teeth among adults during the 1960s (35-44 age group) was 18. Compare that to 1999-2004 data showing that the average number of decayed teeth among adults (ages 35-49) had fallen to 10. In other words, over a roughly 40-year period of growing use of fluoridated water and fluoride toothpaste, the average number of decayed teeth among middle-aged adults dropped by 44% .
Some groups vehemently oppose community water fluoridation, so it’s probably no surprise that they chose to focus on the bad news from the CDC’s recent data brief. A recent press release by a New York-based anti-fluoride group attacks fluoridation as “futile,” but doesn’t examine tooth decay trends. Accurately assessing fluoridation’s impact requires that we compare recent data with data gathered at a time when significant portions of America were not receiving fluoridated water.
Critics of fluoridation rarely offer this kind of before-and-after comparison of U.S. tooth decay data, perhaps because it doesn’t help their cause.