OBJECTIVES: This study charted the trajectories of dental caries, including decayed teeth, missing teeth and filled teeth among older Americans over a 5-year period. In particular, it focused on racial differences in the levels of and rates of change in dental caries experience.
METHODS: Data came from the Piedmont Dental Study. The sample included 810 older Americans who were dentate at the baseline with up to 4 repeated observations between 1988 and 1994. Hierarchical linear models were employed in depicting intrapersonal and interpersonal differences in dental caries experience.
RESULTS: Different measures of caries outcomes exhibited distinct trajectories. On average, the number of decayed teeth decreased over time, whereas missing teeth increased. In contrast, the number of filled teeth remained stable during a 5-year period. Relative to their white counterparts, older black Americans had more decayed teeth and missing teeth but fewer filled teeth. Blacks and whites differed in the levels of dental caries but not in their rates of change except for missing teeth. Even when demographic and socioeconomic attributes were adjusted, racial variations in dental caries experience remained significant.
CONCLUSIONS: Although significantly correlated, various dental caries outcomes move along different paths over time. In view of the persistent racial disparities in dental caries trajectories, future interventions to minimize such variations among older Americans in the levels of and the rates of change in dental caries experience are clearly warranted.