Malocclusion: Disease of Civilization, Part II

The Nature of the Problem

In 1973, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published the results of a National Health Survey in which it examined the dental health of American youths nationwide. The following description was published in a special issue of the journal Pediatric Dentistry (1):
The 1973 National Health Survey reported 75% of children, ages 6 to 11 years, and 89% of youths, ages 12 to 17 years, have some degree of occlusal disharmony [malocclusion]; 8.7% of children and 13% of youth had what was considered a severe handicapping malocclusion for which treatment was highly desirable and 5.5% of children and 16% of youth had a severe handicapping malocclusion that required mandatory treatment.
89% of youths had some degree of malocclusion, and 29% had a severe handicapping malocclusion for which treatment was either highly desirable or mandatory. Fortunately, many of these received orthodontics so the malocclusion didn't persist into adulthood.

This is consistent with another survey conducted in 1977, in which 38% of American youths showed definite or severe malocclusion. 46% had occlusion that the authors deemed "ideal or acceptable" (2).

The trend continues. The CDC National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III (NHANES III) found in 1988-1991 that approximately three fourths of Americans age 12 to 50 years had some degree of malocclusion (3).

The same holds true for Caucasian-Americans, African-Americans and Native Americans in the US, as well as other industrial nations around the world. Typically, only 1/3 to 1/2 of the population shows good (but not necessarily perfect) occlusion (4- 8).

In the next post, I'll review some of the data from non-industrial and transitioning populations.

Malocclusion: Disease of Civilization

1. Pediatr. Dent. 17(6):1-6. 1995-1996
2. USPHS Vital and Health Statistics Ser. 11, no 162. 1977
3. J. Dent. Res. Special issue. 75:706. 1996. Pubmed link.
4. The Evaluation of Canadian Dental Health. 1959. Describes Canadian occlusion.
5. The Effects of Inbreeding on Japanese Children. 1965. Contains data on Japanese occlusion.
6. J. Dent. Res. 35:115. 1956. Contains data on both industrial and non-industrial cultures (Pukapuka, Fiji, New Guinea, U.S.A. and New Zealand).
7. J. Dent. Res. 44:947. 1965 (
free full text). Contains data on Caucasian-Americans and African-Americans living in several U.S. regions, as well as data from two regions of Germany. Only includes data on Angle classifications, not other types of malocclusion such as crossbite and open bite (i.e., the data underestimate the total prevalence of malocclusion).
8. J. Dent. Res. 47:302. 1968 (free full text). Contains data on Chippewa Native Americans in the U.S., whose occlusion was particularly bad, especially when compared to previous generations.