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Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
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General Information

Tooth Decay

Tooth decay (cavities) is one of the most common preventable diseases in children. Children as young as 12-18 months can get cavities. Children do not lose all their baby teeth until they are about 11 or 12 years old. Untreated tooth decay can cause pain and infections that may lead to problems with eating, speaking, sleeping, playing, and learning.

About one in five head start children aged three to five have early childhood tooth decay. One in four Head Start children have untreated tooth decay and need treatment. By age five, one in two Head Start children have had tooth decay. (2014 Wisconsin Healthy Smiles Survey of Wisconsin’s Head Start Children)

One in five third-grade children have untreated tooth decay. One in two third-grade children have had tooth decay. (2013 Wisconsin Healthy Smiles Survey of Wisconsin’s Third-Grade Children)

One in six ninth-graders need dental treatment for tooth decay. (2015 Wisconsin Healthy Smiles Survey of Wisconsin’s Ninth-Graders)


Tooth decay is preventable. Fluoride varnish, a high concentration fluoride coating that is painted on teeth, can prevent about one-third (33%) of decay in the primary (baby) teeth. Children living in communities with fluoride in the tap water have fewer decayed teeth than children who live in areas where their tap water does not have fluoride. Similarly, children who brush daily with fluoride toothpaste will have less tooth decay. Applying dental sealants to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth is another way to prevent tooth decay. Studies in children show that sealants reduce decay in the permanent molars by 81% for 2 years after they are placed on the tooth and continue to be effective for 4 years after placement.

Oral Health

Oral health means much more than healthy teeth. It means being free of chronic oral-facial pain conditions, oral and pharyngeal (throat) cancers, oral soft tissue lesions, birth defects such as cleft lip and palate, and scores of other diseases and disorders.

Oral health is integral to general health. You cannot be healthy without oral health. Oral health and general health should not be interpreted as separate entities.

Safe and effective disease prevention measures exist that everyone can adopt to improve oral health and prevent disease. These measures include daily oral hygiene procedures and other lifestyle behaviors, community programs such as community water fluoridation and tobacco cessation programs, and provider-based interventions such as the placement of dental sealants and examinations for common oral and pharyngeal cancers.

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