This paper reviews the first part of the outcomes of the ORCA Saturday Afternoon Symposium 2014 dealing with ‘caries epidemiology and community dentistry: chances for future improvements in caries risk groups'. After the caries decline in many countries, there are remaining pockets of higher caries levels, mostly in the primary dentition and/or linked to a low socio-economic status (SES). The review into the evidence of caries-preventive measures clearly points to the use of fluorides, especially toothbrushing with fluoridated toothpaste and collective measures such as water fluoridation. In contrast to several unsuccessful high-risk approaches, community and public health programmes seem to be able to ensure a population-wide access and compliance in risk groups. Their simple and evidence-based measures mostly combine regular plaque removal and fluoride applications via toothbrushing, at least for children and adolescents. For the future, the common risk factor approach which addresses associations between oral health, social deprivation, diet, hygiene, smoking, alcohol use and stress should lead to combined efforts with other community health and education specialists. Further engagement with public policy, community leaders and administration is needed in order to strengthen healthy choices and behaviour, e.g. in ‘healthy' schools and kindergartens. It seems advisable that these population programmes also aim at improving upstream factors.