Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Journal of Dental Hygiene








Purpose: Tooth decay and cavities are the most common oral health consequences for young children that may result from inadequate oral health literacy (OHL) or understanding of their caregivers. The purpose of this study was to describe the understanding of terms related to decay and cavities among caregivers of preschool-aged children.

Methods: English-speaking caregivers with children aged(OH-LIP). Responses were recorded, transcribed, coded, and assigned to domains and categories.

Results: Responses from 111 participants were included in the analysis. About one fifth of the participants (19.8%, n=22) indicated that they did not know what decay was or provided an incorrect response. The majority (71.2%, n=79) made the association that decay was something bad that happens to the teeth. However only a minority of the participants (9%, n=10) correctly identified decay as destruction of the tooth surface because of bacterial action. When asked to define the word cavities, more than half (68.5%) indicated that cavities were something harmful to teeth, while only about one quarter (27%, n=30) correctly identified cavities as resulting from the decay process.

Conclusion: Knowledge disparities related to the terms decay and cavities among caregivers suggest that more education is needed regarding the tooth decay process and factors causing dental caries to ensure timely preventive services are received. Gaps in oral health literacy should be addressed by health care professionals. Dental hygienists are in an ideal position to educate caregivers as well as non-dental health care professionals who provide services to caregivers and children.


© 2021 The American Dental Hygienists’ Association

Included with the kind written permission of the copyright holder.

Original Publication Citation

Claiborne, D. M., Shuman, D., Sullivan, M., & Richman, J. (2021). Caregivers' comprehension of the terms decay and cavities: A qualitative analysis. Journal of Dental Hygiene, 95(6), 6-12.


0000-0001-6324-9856 (Claiborne)