the aim of this paper was to investigate the experience of dental caries in a population of young adults from salvador - ba, and to associate the prevalence of caries with the utilization of topical fluoride. a cross-sectional study was carried out with a sample of 493 persons aged 12-20 years, from salvador - ba. data were obtained from interviews and clinical examinations and they were analyzed through backward logistic regression. the dmft was 4.44 (sd 3.71), and, for subjects aging 12-13 years, it was 2.72 (sd 2.75). a hundred and forty adolescents reported that they had participated in oral health programs (30%), and the majority felt that they were unable to maintain their own oral health. topical fluoride was not a significant factor in the decrease of the prevalence of caries among these young adults (rp = 0.9). there was a decline in dental caries in this group. however, it is necessary to review the surgical-restorative model of dental practice in order to achieve better results in the promotion of oral health.