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J Public Health Dent. 2000;60 Suppl 1:243-9.

Prevalence and severity of dental caries among American Indians and Alaska Natives.

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Indian Health Service, Parklawn Building, Room 6A-30, 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20857, USA.



This paper reports findings from the 1991 IHS Patient Oral Health Status and Treatment Needs Survey (1991 IHS patient survey) and presents trends in caries among American Indian and Alaska Native (Native American) populations since 1957.


The 1991 IHS patient survey obtained data from approximately 10 percent (25,000) of the dental patients seen annually at IHS, tribal, and urban Indian clinics. The results of this survey are compared descriptively with previous surveys conducted by the IHS beginning in 1957.


Findings from the 1991 IHS patient survey indicate that Native Americans experience a much higher prevalence of dental caries in their primary and permanent dentitions than the general US population. However, caries rates in Native American children peaked in 1983-84 and have been going down since that time.


While progress has been made in preventing dental caries among Native Americans, the high prevalence and severity at all ages in this rapidly growing population have resulted in a large backlog of untreated disease with an overwhelming demand on the resources available to provide care. Continued emphasis on dental caries prevention and health promotion is an important part of the solution. New strategies such as targeting preventive services toward individuals and groups with the highest risk of disease and the use of modern conservative treatment methods to control disease must be employed. Full implementation of these strategies and identification of the resources required will depend upon new and ongoing partnerships among tribes, federal and state governments, and the private sector.

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