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Oral Health and Dental Care

Oral health conditions can cause chronic pain of the mouth and face, and can impair the ability to eat normally. To prevent caries (cavities) and periodontal (gum) disease, the American Dental Association recommends maintaining a healthy diet with plenty of water, and limiting eating and drinking between meals.1 Other important preventive measures include regular brushing and flossing and regular dental checkups to remove plaque and examine for caries or other potential problems.2 These guidelines can be important for parents, since dental caries is an infectious disease. The bacteria causing decay are transmissible from parent or caregiver to child through oral contact and sharing food and utensils.3

In 1999-2002, women were less likely than men to have untreated dental caries (8.9 versus 12.6 percent). Among women, non-Hispanic Blacks were most likely to have caries, followed by Hispanic women. Sealants-a hard, clear substance applied to the surfaces of teeth-may help to prevent caries, but women are less likely than men to have sealants. Non-Hispanic Black women are most likely to have caries, but are second only to Hispanic women in having sealants.

Having health insurance, and particularly dental insurance, may affect how often women visit the dentist. In 1999-2002, 72.1 percent of women who had health and dental insurance reported seeing a dentist in the past year, compared to 60.3 percent of women with health insurance but no dental coverage and 38.4 percent of women with no health insurance. Women with no health insurance were the most likely to have gone at least 5 years since a dental visit.

1 American Dental Association. Diet and oral health: overview.

2 American Dental Association. Preventing periodontal disease. JADA 2001 Sep;132:1339.
3 American Dental Association. ADA statement on early childhood caries.

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Women's Health USA 2006 is not copyrighted. Readers are free to duplicate and use all or part of the information contained on this page. Suggested Citation: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Women's Health USA 2006. Rockville, Maryland: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006.