objective: to determine the prevalence of caries, deft and dmft indices (sum of decay, messing, and filling tooth in primary and permanent dentition), and the significant caries index (sic) in scholars from leon, nicaragua. patients and method: dental data from a representative sample of 1,400 children were collected and analyzed in a cross-sectional study (year 2002). all subjects were clinically evaluated by one of two calibrated and standardized examiners. results: 28.6% children were caries free in both dentitions. caries prevalence in primary teeth in 6-years-old children was 72.6% and 45.0% in permanent teeth in 12-years-old children. mean deft and dmft were 2.98 ± 2.93 (n = 1,125) and 0.65 ± 1.43 (n = 1,379), respectively. the sic at 12 years of age was 4.12. children with caries experience in primary teeth were more likely to have caries in permanent teeth (odds ratio = 2.48; 95% confidence interval, 1.66-3.79) than children without caries in primary teeth. conclusion: low caries prevalence and experience were observed in the permanent dentition, with a substantial proportion of filled teeth. such favorable finding was not observed in the primary dentition. levels of caries failed to meet the oral health goal of fdi/who for the year 2000 in 6-years-old. however, the levels found in 12-year-olds had already met the goal for 2000. the present findings confirmed prior reports that the caries experience in primary teeth is associated with the experience of caries in permanent teeth.