Tooth decay (dental caries) is an infectious disease affecting both children and adults. It is probably the most common - yet the most preventable - disease known to man. By the age of 18, about 80 percent of American children have experienced tooth decay. While the occurrence of tooth decay in the U.S. has declined over the last 30 years, certain groups suffer more than others from dental disease - including both low-income and minority children.
Several factors affect an individual's dental health:
- the rate of tooth decay and other dental problems;
- their ability to get and pay for dental treatment;
- diet and use of baby bottles; and
- fluoride levels in the water supply.
Unfortunately, those individuals at highest risk of dental disease are also the least likely to have access to routine professional dental care.
The public belief - especially among those who can afford dental care or have dental insurance - is that tooth decay is a natural and minor issue that deserves little attention or dollars. However, if left untreated tooth decay can lead to needless pain and suffering; difficulty in speaking, chewing, and swallowing; lost school days; increased cost of care; and loss of self-esteem. In 1996, children ages 5 to 17 years missed 1,611,000 school days due to acute dental problems - an average of 3.1 days per 100 students.
The good news is that most oral diseases can be prevented. Some of the methods to prevent tooth decay include dental sealants, drinking fluoridated water, using toothpaste that contains fluoride, limiting sugar intake, and having access to dental care (Sonoma Smiles Survey, 2014). Sonoma County is working towards facilitating all of these measures.