TIME Research

More Than a Quarter of American Adults Have Untreated Tooth Decay

American oral health could use a brush-up

New data on tooth decay and cavities among American adults reveal the sad state of our pearly whites. More than 25% of American adults ages 20 to 64 have untreated tooth decay, and 91% have one tooth — or more — that has been treated for tooth decay or needs to be.

The latest findings published Wednesday from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics show that while tooth decay and complete tooth loss have dropped among Americans since the 1960s, disparities still remain, and there’s room for improvement in our oral health.

MORE: The Sugar Industry Shaped Government Advice on Cavities, Report Finds

The data span 2011–2012 and reveal that Hispanic and black adults had more untreated cavities compared with white and Asian adults ages 20 to 64. Black adults had the highest rate at 42%.

About 1 in 5 adults age 65 and older had untreated tooth decay; American adults ages 20 to 39 were twice as likely to have all their teeth, compared with adults ages 40 to 64.

Though the current report only looks at adults, cavities are common among young people too. Even though cavities are preventable, tooth decay is four times more common than asthma in teens ages 14 to 17. It’s the most common chronic disease among kids and adolescents ages 6 to 19.

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