One in Four Kids Miss Annual Preventive Dental Care, up From Previous Years

Updated December 5, 2023 | Posted February 13, 2023
A male dentist smiles while showing a young girl how to properly brush her teeth — using a handheld dental model and a toothbrush.

Accord­ing to the lat­est data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT® Data Cen­ter, 75% of U.S. chil­dren ages 117 received pre­ven­tive den­tal care in the past year. This means that one in four kids went with­out such care, an increase from pre­vi­ous years. Sim­i­lar­ly, near­ly one in four kids (23%) have teeth that are not in very good or excel­lent con­di­tion. These data were report­ed by a par­ent or care­giv­er in the 20202021 Nation­al Sur­vey of Children’s Health.

Why Den­tal Health Matters

Good oral health is crit­i­cal, as cav­i­ties are one of the most com­mon chron­ic dis­eases among chil­dren, and untreat­ed den­tal prob­lems can lead to pain, dif­fi­cul­ty eat­ing and sleep­ing, oth­er health con­di­tions, social and emo­tion­al issues and chal­lenges in school. Pre­ven­tive den­tal vis­its, such as check-ups and den­tal clean­ings, are essen­tial in order to main­tain oral health and address den­tal prob­lems before they become more serious.

Access to oral health care and rates of den­tal dis­ease vary wide­ly by socioe­co­nom­ic sta­tus, race and eth­nic­i­ty, geog­ra­phy and oth­er demo­graph­ic fac­tors, accord­ing to a grow­ing body of research, includ­ing a report by the Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health. For instance, the fol­low­ing groups are more like­ly to expe­ri­ence den­tal dis­ease and bar­ri­ers to access­ing care:

  • Black, Lati­no and Amer­i­can Indi­an and Alas­ka Native children
  • Kids liv­ing in poverty
  • Those with no insur­ance or pub­lic insurance
  • Immi­grant and refugee families
  • Young chil­dren and teens
  • Those with spe­cial health care needs
  • Fam­i­lies in rur­al areas

State-Lev­el Dif­fer­ences in Children’s Den­tal Care

Near­ly 9 in 10 chil­dren received annu­al pre­ven­tive den­tal vis­its in Hawaii (85%) — the high­est fig­ure of all states in 20202021. The low­est rates of pre­ven­tive den­tal care were found in Flori­da (69%), Mis­souri (70%) and Ohio (70%), with almost one-third of kids miss­ing annu­al pre­ven­tive care in each state.

Chil­dren were least like­ly to have teeth in excel­lent or very good con­di­tion in Arkansas (71%), Neva­da (71%), Cal­i­for­nia (73%) and Louisiana (73%) — the low­est fig­ures in 20202021. Con­verse­ly, the fol­low­ing three states had the high­est shares of kids with teeth in excel­lent or very good con­di­tion: New Hamp­shire (84%), Mass­a­chu­setts (83%) and Ver­mont (83%).

Children’s Den­tal Health Trends Over Time

At the nation­al lev­el, the rate of kids receiv­ing pre­ven­tive den­tal care has dropped by five per­cent­age points since 20182019, from 80% to 75%, and the share of kids whose teeth are in excel­lent or very good con­di­tion fell by two per­cent­age points in the same peri­od. The decline in den­tal care is reflect­ed at the state lev­el as well, with 43 states and the Dis­trict of Colum­bia see­ing a drop in kids’ den­tal vis­it rates between 20182019 and 20202021.

The decrease in children’s pre­ven­tive den­tal care after 20182019 is like­ly relat­ed to the impact of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, as mul­ti­ple sur­veys have found that many par­ents delayed or had a hard­er time get­ting den­tal care and med­ical care dur­ing the pandemic.

Pol­i­cy­mak­ers and oth­er lead­ers can address struc­tur­al bar­ri­ers to access­ing den­tal care in order to ensure that all chil­dren, youth and fam­i­lies have equi­table access to care.

More Health Data and Den­tal Health Resources

Stay Con­nect­ed to the KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter by Email

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