Oral Health


According to the Washington State Health Assessment, the rate of dental caries among third-graders in the state does not meet the Health People 2020 goal for children ages six to nine. This has broad implications for not only oral health, but general health, over the life span. The oral health content below calls out the importance of a Life Course approach to oral health in our efforts improve population health.

Oral health is inseparable from overall, systemic health. Oral diseases impact systemic health and quality of life. 

In Children

Dental caries is the most common chronic disease of childhood, seven times more prevalent than asthma. Tooth decay is painful and can negatively affect a child’s ability to learn, socialize, and grow. 

In Adults

Periodontal diseases, in particular, can result in increased systemic bacterial exposure and increased inflammatory factors that are associated with a range of diseases and conditions such as diabetes, coronary heart diseases, stroke, arthritis, respiratory diseases, and renal diseases. Furthermore, several studies link poor oral health to metabolic syndrome, obesity, severe mental illnesses, Alzheimer’s disease, and adverse pregnancy outcomes. The most common oral diseases, dental caries and periodontal diseases, share common risk factors with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. Common risk factors including poverty, diet, hygiene, smoking, alcohol use, stress, and trauma represent significant opportunities for prevention and early intervention. 

In Older Adults 

Oral diseases are some of the most common chronic diseases in the older adult population. They include dental caries, periodontal disease, and oral cancers. In addition, edentulism (total loss of teeth) and side effects from the use of systemic drugs have adverse effects on oral and overall health. By 2030, U.S. Census Bureau estimates indicate that over 20% of the U.S. population, or more than 70 million people, will be age 65 or older, significantly comprised of “baby boomers” (those born between 1948 and 1964).


Current Health Status

Children: Four in 10 kindergarteners and more than half of third grade children in Washington have dental caries, the disease that causes tooth decay. It is important to note that caries is a disease process. The disease is preventable, but like many chronic diseases, once established, it can only be managed with ongoing care. In other words, filling a cavity caused by the disease will not eliminate the disease. 

Adults: In 2011, the Washington Hospital Association reported that dental related pain was the most common reason uninsured adults visited hospital emergency departments. Emergency departments are ill-equipped for management of dental issues, which can lead to opioid prescriptions to manage pain. Since the underlying issue is not resolved, this creates a cycle of returning visits for the individual to the emergency department.

Older Adults: Washington seniors who have incomes of $25,000 or less are among the most highly impacted by oral disease, exacerbated by their increased likelihood of being diagnosed with diabetes. They are the most likely to suffer from tooth loss, periodontal disease, tooth decay, dry mouth and mouth sensitivity. Less than half of low income seniors in Washington have any kind of dental insurance coverage, and many cite cost as the main barrier to getting needed dental care. Medicare does not cover dental care.


Oral Health Resources

Current Work and Initiatives

Emerging Issues

Health Equity Concerns

Key Data and Sources

Recommended Strategies


Contact Us

Contact us at p4iph@doh.wa.gov

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