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Children from low-income communities are five times more likely to have untreated cavities

About 31 percent of low-income children ages 2 to 5 have dental cavities that don't get treated, according to data from the 2007 National Healthcare Disparities Report released by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). A much smaller portion of high-income children—about 6 percent—have untreated cavities. The data come from surveys conducted between 1999 and 2004. If untreated, the infection (dental caries) that causes tooth decay and cavities can also lead to pain, tooth loss, and more serious infections.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends a dental checkup at least twice a year for most children. Some children need more frequent dental visits because of increased risk of tooth decay, unusual growth patterns, or poor oral hygiene.

AHRQ's data also show:

  • Among children from poor families, untreated cavities were more common in those ages 6 to 11 (37 percent) than children 12 to 17 (27 percent).
  • Likewise, among children from wealthy families, untreated cavities were more common among ages 6 to 11 (12 percent) than children 12 to 17 (7 percent).
  • Only 36 percent of poor children visited a dentist in the past year compared with 70 percent of wealthy children, according to a 2004 survey.

For more information, go to the 2007 National Healthcare Disparities Report at www.ahrq.gov/qual/qrdr07.htm. The report examines disparities in Americans' access to and quality of health care by race, ethnicity, income, and education.

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