Prevalence and severity of dental caries among American Indian and Alaska Native preschool children


Dr. Kathy R. Phipps, Oral Health Surveillance Consultant, 255 Bradley Avenue, Morro Bay, CA 93442. Tel.: 805-776-3393; Fax: 805-776-3393; e-mail: Kathy R. Phipps is an oral health surveillance consultant. Timothy L. Ricks is with the Nashville Area Indian Health Service. Michael C. Manz is with the University of Michigan. Patrick Blahut is with the Indian Health Service, Division of Oral Health.


Objectives: To describe the Indian Health Service (IHS) oral health surveillance system and the oral health status of American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) children aged 1-5 years.

Methods: A stratified probability sample of IHS/tribal sites was selected. Children were screened by trained examiners at community-based locations including medical clinics, Head Start, preschools, kindergarten, and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Data collection was limited to the primary dentition and included number of teeth present plus number of teeth with cavitated lesions, restorations, and extracted because of decay. Number of molars with sealants and urgency of need for dental care data were also obtained. Statistical analyses were performed with SAS (SAS Institute Inc., Cary, NC, USA). Sample weights were used to produce population estimates based on selection probabilities.

Results: A total of 8,461 AI/AN children 12-71 months of age were screened at 63 IHS/tribal sites, approximately 7 percent of the estimated IHS user population of the same age. Overall, 54 percent of the children had decay experience, 39 percent had untreated decay, 7 percent had primary molar sealants, 36 percent needed early or urgent dental care, and 6 percent needed urgent dental care. The mean of decayed, missing, or filled teeth was 3.5 (95 percent confidence interval, 3.1-3.9). The prevalence of decay experience increased with age; 21 percent of 1-year-olds and 75 percent of 5-year-olds had a history of caries. When stratified by IHS area, there were substantial differences in the oral health of preschool children.

Conclusions: The results confirm that in the United States, AI/AN children served by IHS/tribal programs are one of the racial/ethnic groups at highest risk of caries.