National Trends in Caries Prevalence

Data on the prevalence of dental caries within populations are nowadays very reliable as they are collected to internationally recognized standards. Surveys of 12-year-old children are carried out in most countries, and the data are collated by the World Health Organization (see Table 1). In contrast, data for adults are scarcer.

The general picture emerging from the repetition of these national surveys is clear. In many countries the prevalence of caries is falling, often dramatically. In poorer countries this is unlikely to be the case, and, even within the richest countries, the dental-health experience of the economically disadvantaged

Table 1 Prevalence of caries by region; the table shows the mean number of teeth with decay experience in 12-year-old children

Lowest DMFT


Year of Survey Highest DMFT Country

Year of Survey




Southeast Asia


Eastern Mediterranean

Western Pacific

Denmark The Netherlands Switzerland UK






Djibouti Pakistan

South Korea Australia Hong Kong


1992 2000 2000


1994 1986



1990 1999

1972 1999 2001



Guatemala 1987

Mauritius 1993

North Korea 1991

Jordan 1995

Brunei Darussalam 1994

DMFT, decayed, missing, or filled permanent teeth.

Data obtained from the WHO Oral Health Country Profile Programme, WHO Collaborating Centre (website http:/www.whocollab.

is significantly poorer than that of those with a higher socioeconomic position. In many countries there is evidence that inequalities in dental health between the rich and the poor have widened.

Attempts to account for these trends are hampered by the unreliability of data on factors that are likely to attenuate caries risk. All assessments of these factors rely on people (often children) accurately remembering and reporting aspects of their everyday behavior, such as whether they clean their teeth and how often and what they have eaten and drunk and when. These data are subjective and notoriously unreliable. More secure conclusions about factors that have influenced caries rates must therefore come from more objective data (see below).

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