Survey reveals big gaps in the public's knowledge of dental health

By the CDHP team

As children’s and health organizations observe Children’s Dental Health Month, a newly released national survey conducted for the Children’s Dental Health Project (CDHP) shows significant gaps in adults’ knowledge about children’s oral health, including the causes of tooth decay and when to start brushing children’s teeth. In addition, more than 2 in 5 U.S. adults erroneously believe they have little or no control over whether they get a cavity.

Tooth decay — a preventable bacterial infection that causes cavities — is the most common chronic health condition of childhood, and 2 to 3 times more common than childhood asthma or obesity. It’s especially concentrated among children from low-income families.

Only 7% of adults correctly identified tooth decay as the #1 chronic health condition of childhood. The correct response rate fell to 4% among adults earning less than $35,000.

Unfortunately, what adults don’t know about tooth decay can hurt children’s oral health.

“Only 43% of adults surveyed believe they have much control over whether they get a cavity,” said Meg Booth, CDHP’s executive director. “We need to remind families that they have more control than they realize, and prevention starts long before children enter school. We all need to give families the knowledge and tools that support the habits that will put children on a lifelong path of oral health.”

CDHP aims to advance such approaches through — with resources for policymakers, health professionals and advocates to create a new coordinated system of care for children at highest risk for tooth decay. provides a variety of resources to help change the public conversation about early childhood cavities. offers strategies for policymakers, health professionals and children’s advocates to change the conversation about tooth decay. The website includes fact sheets, infographics, an issue brief and video content. was created by CDHP with financial support from the Colgate-Palmolive Company.

The CDHP survey, conducted by Wakefield Research, also found that least 40% of adults are unaware that:

  • The bacteria that cause tooth decay can be transmitted from a parent to a child.
  • The sugar in natural fruit juice can contribute to childhood cavities.
  • A parent should begin brushing their child’s teeth as soon as they appear in the mouth.

The survey was conducted of 1,011 nationally representative U.S. adults on December 7-11, 2015. The survey’s margin of error was +/- 3.1%.

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