Children's orthodontic utilization in the United States: Socioeconomic and surveillance considerations

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There has been no epidemiologic study of malocclusion prevalence and treatment need in the United States since the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted from 1988 to 1991. In this descriptive study, the authors sought to estimate orthodontic treatment prevalence by examining a nationally representative survey to assess current pediatric dental and orthodontic utilization.


The 2009 and 2013 Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys were used to categorize and compare all types of pediatric dental and orthodontic procedures in children and adolescents up to 20 years old. Descriptive variables included dental insurance, poverty level, and racial/ethnic background.


Visits for orthodontic procedures constituted the third largest treatment category (14.5%) and were greatest among the uninsured and higher income populations. Children with public insurance had the fewest orthodontic visits (9.4%). Racial/ethnic disparities were most pronounced among orthodontic visits, with black and Hispanic children receiving the fewest orthodontic procedures (8.89% and 10.56%, respectively).


Orthodontic treatment prevalence data suggest that significant disparities exist in orthodontic utilization based on race/ethnicity, poverty level, and insurance status. To establish the burden of malocclusion, describe populations in greatest need of interventions, and craft appropriate programs and policies, an active orthodontic surveillance system is essential.

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