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Adults are as likely as adolescents to have cavities

Based on clinical examination and full-mouth x-rays, 8 percent of adolescents and adults have medium and large dentinal caries (cavities). Those between the ages of 13 and 25 are most likely to have clinically evident caries and to have the greatest percentage of teeth involved. Also, nearly 6 percent of apparently clinically sound teeth show radiographic evidence of dentinal caries, and the prevalence of these clinically undetected caries increases with patient age, according to a study supported by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (HS06670).

These findings reinforce the need for dentists to carefully consider x-ray information in all adolescent and adult patients, note the researchers who are from the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. They analyzed clinical exams and interpretations of full-mouth radiographs of 460 patients enrolled in a larger study of guidelines for prescribing dental radiographs.

The prevalence of teeth with radiographic caries that were clinically undetected varied from 4.3 percent to 6.7 percent for the four age groups studied (25 years or younger, 26-35 years, 36-45 years, older than 45 years). The chance of a patient having clinically undetected recurrent caries increased with age, both from a per-tooth perspective (ranging from 1 percent to 3.7 percent) and from a per-patient perspective (ranging from 14.3 percent to 44.4 percent). On a per-patient basis, the rate of gingival caries (cavities along the gums) increased dramatically from 4.8 percent to 22.2 percent for older patients. The researchers conclude that the potential for caries is as high for adults as it is for adolescents.

See "Findings of clinical and radiographic caries among several adult age groups," by Isildinha M. Reis, Dr.P.H., Virginia F. Flack, J.D., Ph.D., Kathryn A. Atchison, D.D.S., M.P.H., and Stuart C. White, D.D.S., Ph.D., in the December 1998 issue of Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, Oral Pathology, Oral Radiology, Endodontics 86(6), pp. 760-764.

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