Early tooth decay has tremendous human and economic costs.
Caries, the disease that causes tooth decay, is the most common chronic disease of early childhood. Nearly 1 in 4 preschool-age children has experienced a cavity, and the rates are higher for children from low-income families. (Health and children's advocates: these talking points can help you raise awareness about what's at stake. )
Although tooth decay is largely preventable, 43% of Americans believe they have only some or no control over whether they get a cavity. Actually, there are concrete steps that parents can take to keep their children's teeth — and their own — healthy. Reaching kids early is critical because children who suffer cavities in their primary teeth are nearly three times more likely to develop cavities in their permanent teeth.
Here's the reality we face:
Tooth decay can impose long-term costs on children and families. Kids who suffer dental pain are:
- Three times more likely to miss school due to dental pain.
- Four times more likely to have a lower grade-point average.
In addition, treating childhood tooth decay creates an economic burden for families and state budgets:
- Nearly 1 in 5 of all U.S. children’s healthcare dollars are spent on dental care.
- A 2014 study found that in one year alone, children made 215,073 visits to hospital ERs for preventable dental conditions, and the cost of these visits exceeded $104 million.
- The lifetime cost of treating a single decayed tooth can exceed $6,000.
- Young children with rampant tooth decay generally must be treated in hospital operating rooms (ORs) under general anesthesia, which can be a risk to developing brains. The average per-child cost of OR treatments can range from $5,500 to $15,000.
- According to the National Governor's Association, a "significant portion" of OR costs for treating dental disease are paid by taxpayers through Medicaid and other public programs.
The bacteria that causes tooth decay is a chronic condition that typically lasts into adulthood — with new costs and consequences. That's why it's essential to prevent and stop cavities in childhood. And because a pregnant woman's oral health is a strong predictor of her newborn's risk of cavities, prevention efforts must start during pregnancy.
Despite the best efforts of many dentists, dental hygienists, pediatricians and others, our system of care tends to incentivize treatment over prevention. End Cavities wants to build momentum for system changes that focus on preventing caries or keeping it from progressing to a cavity.
Achieving change will take a broad effort. Indeed, childhood cavities are a global problem, which is why we're pleased to partner with the Alliance for a Cavity-Free Future (ACFF). Learn more about this international initiative, seeking to ensure that every child born in 2026 or later is cavity-free throughout their lifetime.