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Vital and Health Statistics

Unmet dental need: 7 percent of U.S. children

January 18, 2012

Hyattsville, Md. - Seven percent of American children aged 17 and younger had unmet dental need in 2010 because their families could not afford dental care, the National Center for Health Statistics said in an analysis of data collected by U.S. Census Bureau interviewers and reported in the Vital and Health Statistics series.

This includes an estimated 4.3 million children aged 2-17 years and is representative of the civilian noninstitutionalized population of the United States. The measure of unmet dental need is based on the question posed during face-to-face interviews with an adult family respondent and any other adults present at the time, "DURING THE PAST 12 MONTHS, was there any time when (child's name) needed any of the following but didn't get it because you couldn't afford it: Dental care including (check-ups)?"

Children in single-mother families were more likely to have had unmet dental need (9 percent) than in two-parent families (6 percent), said the report, Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Children: National Health Interview Survey, 2010,

Uninsured children (26 percent) were more than six times as likely to have unmet dental need as children with private health insurance (4 percent) and more than four times as likely as children with Medicaid or other public coverage (6 percent), the report said.

Interviewers also asked, "About how long has it been since anyone in the family last saw a dentist? Include all types of dentists, such as orthodontists, oral surgeons, and all other dental specialists, as well as dental hygienists."

Thirty three percent of uninsured children had no dental contact for more than two years, including those who never had a contact, compared with 12 percent of children with Medicaid and 12 percent of children with private insurance, the report said. Non-Hispanic white children were more likely to have had a dental contact in the past six months (67 percent) than non-Hispanic black (55 percent) or Hispanic (57 percent) children.

The report is one in a set of reports summarizing data from the 2010 National Health Interview Survey, a multipurpose health survey conducted annually for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics. Other "selected highlights" reported by the authors:

  • In 2010, most U.S. children aged 17 years and under had excellent or very good health (82 percent);
  • however, 8 percent of children had no health insurance coverage, and 5 percent of children had no usual place of health care;
  • 14 percent of children had ever been diagnosed with asthma;
  • an estimated 8 percent of children aged 3-17 years had a learning disability;
  • an estimated 8 percent of children had ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

The report presents age-adjusted and unadjusted statistics from the 2010 National Health Interview Survey on selected health measures for children under age 18 years classified by sex, age, race, Hispanic origin, family structure, parent education, family income, poverty status, health insurance coverage, place of residence, region and current health status.