CDC: The High Cost of Oral Disease


Oral diseases cause pain and disability for millions of Americans. Proven interventions, like dental sealants and fluoridated water, can improve oral health and save money for communities.

Oral diseases can impact your family’s quality of life.

Oral diseases—like cavities and gum disease—cause pain and disability for millions of Americans and cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year.1

Cavities (also known as caries or tooth decay) are one of the greatest unmet health treatment needs. Cavities are the most common chronic disease of childhood,2 and more than 1 in 4 adults in the United States have at least one untreated cavity.3

Gum disease is an inflammatory disease that affects the hard and soft structures that support the teeth4 and is a leading cause of tooth loss.5Nearly half (46%) of all adults aged 30 or older show signs of gum disease, and severe gum disease affects about 9% of adults.6

Oral Diseases Cost Money and Lower Your Quality of Life

Untreated cavities can cause pain and infections that may lead to problems with eating, speaking, playing, and learning. Left untreated, cavities and gum disease can lead to tooth loss. Tooth loss can affect a person’s self-esteem and contribute to social anxiety, lack of social connectedness, or depression.7 Severe tooth loss—having 8 or fewer teeth—makes it hard to chew food or have a healthy diet,8 which is important for overall health and preventing and controlling other chronic conditions.9,10

Nearly 18% of working-age adults report that the appearance of their mouth and teeth affects their ability to interview for a job. For people with low incomes, the percentage increases to 29%.7

Treating oral disease also costs time and money. Regardless of age, income, or type of insurance, more people report financial barriers to dental care than to any other type of health care.11 Over $45 billion is lost in productivity in the United States each year because of untreated oral disease,12 and over 34 million school hours are lost each year because of unplanned urgent dental care.13 In 2017, there were 2.1 million emergency room visits for dental emergencies. Medicaid pays for about 69% of these visits for children and about 40% for adults.14

Community Water Fluoridation and School Sealant Programs Can Help

Filling up a glass with drinking water from kitchen tap

Fluoride protects your teeth from decay. 

The good news is that fluoridated water and dental sealants are effective interventions to improve oral health and save money.

Drinking fluoridated water keeps teeth strong and reduces cavities by about 25% in children and adults. Community water fluoridation is the most efficient and cost-effective way to deliver fluoride to everyone in a community, regardless of their age, income, or education. In fact, 1 year of providing fluoridated water saves an estimated $6.5 billion in averted direct and indirect treatment costs.15 After adjusting for fluoridation costs, communities served by fluoridated water save an average of $32 per person a year by avoiding treatment for cavities. Communities of 1,000 or more see an average estimated return on investment of $20 for every $1 spent on water fluoridation.15

Dental sealants prevent 80% of cavities in the back teeth—where almost all cavities occur—up to 2 years after placement.16 Unfortunately, less than 20% of children at highest risk for cavities receive sealants during a dental visit. School sealant programs are an effective and cost-efficient way to provide sealants to these children. School sealant programs that serve students at high risk for cavities can become cost-saving in 2 years and save more than $11 for every tooth sealed over 4 years.17 Providing sealants to the nearly 7 million children from low-income households who need them could save up to $300 million in averted dental treatment costs.18

More Information

Source: https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/publications/features/the-high-cost-of-oral-dis.html