There’s some good news and some bad news from the Centers for Disease Control regarding the oral health of the nation.

According to a report, there have been significant improvements in oral health for Americans of all ages.

That’s the good news.

More older Americans are keeping their natural teeth. Moderate to severe periodontitis (gum disease) among adults has decreased significantly.

Use of dental sealants in young people ages 6-19 years has increased and tooth decay in school-age children has declined. And children from low-income families appear to be getting more dental treatment.

All great news!

Yet the report, based on data from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) — which represents the most comprehensive assessment of oral health data available for the U.S. population to date — reconfirms a hard truth.

Economic and racial/ethnic disparities in oral health persist.

That’s not such good news.

31% of Mexican-American children aged 6-11 years have experienced decay in their permanent teeth compared to 19% of non-Hispanic white children.

12% of children aged 6-11 from families that live below the poverty line had untreated decay, compared to 4% in families with income above the poverty line. The report also records an increase in tooth decay in the primary teeth of children aged 2-5 years, from 24% to 28%.

"This report shows that while we are continuing to make strides in prevention of tooth decay, this disease clearly remains a problem for some racial and ethnic groups, many of whom have more treated and untreated tooth decay compared with other groups," said Dr. Bruce A. Dye, an NCHS dentist and the report's lead author.

What can be done?

Beyond education on the importance of oral hygiene and brushing, there are a number of public health steps we can take to address tooth decay in children and adults, too. From addressing dental shortages in underserved communities to advocating for change in public health policies, there are many ways to get involved in making affordable dental care accessible to more Americans.