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Oral health problems: painful, costly, preventable

Editor's Note: October is National Dental Hygiene Month. Learn more about the impact of mouth and throat diseases from the article on the Center for Disease Control web site.

Mouth and throat diseases, which range from cavities to cancer, cause pain and disability for millions of Americans.

This fact is disturbing because almost all oral diseases can be prevented.

For children, cavities are a common problem that begins at an early age. Tooth decay affects more than one-fourth of U.S. children aged 2-5 and half of those aged 12-15. Low-income children are hardest hit: about half of those aged 6-19 years have untreated decay. Untreated cavities may cause pain, dysfunction, absence from school, underweight, and poor appearance-problems that can greatly reduce a child's capacity to succeed in life.

Tooth decay is also a problem for U.S. adults, especially for the increasing number of older adults who have retained most of their teeth. Despite this increase in tooth retention, tooth loss remains a problem among older adults. One fourth of adults over age 60 years have lost all of their teeth-primarily because of tooth decay, which affects more than 90 percent of adults over age 40 years, and advanced gum disease, which affects 5-15 percent of adults. Tooth loss can affect self-esteem, and it may contribute to nutrition problems by limiting the types of food that a person can eat.

In addition, oral cancers pose a threat to the health of U.S. adults. Each year, about 28,000 people learn that they have mouth and throat cancers, and nearly 7,200 die of these diseases.

In 2005, Americans made about 500 million visits to dentists, and an estimated $84 billion was spent on dental services. Yet many children and adults still go without measures that have been proven effective in preventing oral diseases and reducing dental care costs. For example, over 100 million Americans still do not have access to water that contains enough fluoride to protect their teeth, even though the per capita cost of water fluoridation over a person's lifetime is less than the cost of one dental filling.

For further information about dental health, see the web site for the Center for Disease Control (CDS) at:

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