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More than Half of U.S. Children Don't Get Yearly Dental Checkups

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AHRQ News and Numbers

Release date: February 2, 2006

Fewer than half of U.S. children ages 2 to 17 usually have a dental checkup at least once a year, according to the Federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). This situation prevails even though tooth decay, the single most common chronic childhood disease in the U.S., is highly preventable through regular home care and professional preventive services.

AHRQ's Medical Expenditures Panel Survey (MEPS) found that 32 million American children (49 percent) did not usually get yearly dental checkups according to data collected in 2003—the latest year for which data are available.

The MEPS also revealed that:

  • Health care professionals often failed to tell parents about the importance of routine dental checkups. Only about 46 percent of children ages 2 to 17 benefited from this advice.
  • Hispanic and black children were far less likely to usually have a once-a-year dental checkup (34 percent and 42 percent, respectively) than non-Hispanic white children (59.5 percent).
  • Parents' education mattered. Children living in households where at least one parent had attended college were nearly twice as likely to usually receive an annual checkup than were children whose parents were high-school graduates or less (60.9 percent versus 33.2 percent).
  • Money also mattered. When children did not receive necessary dental care, or were delayed in receiving it, more than half the time (56 percent) the stated main reason was because the family could not afford the expense.

AHRQ's Medical Expenditure Panel Survey collects information nationwide on health care use and spending, health insurance, and health status. The information in this AHRQ News and Numbers is drawn from the child health supplement, preventive care, and access to care sections of the 2003 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey Household Component (MEPS-HC). For more details see MEPS Statistical Brief No. 113: Children's Dental Care—Periodicity of Checkups and Access to Care, 2003, on AHRQ's MEPS Web site at [PDF Help].

For more information, or to speak with an AHRQ expert regarding HCUP data, please contact Marion Torchia at or 301-427-1399.


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