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News / January 13, 2011

More cavities for kids with asthma

by Guy Hiscott

Medical and dental personnel and the parents of children with asthma should be aware of the connection between asthma and oral hygiene, so says Swedish researcher and dental hygienist, Malin Stensson.

Malin, of the Institute of Odontology at the Sahlgrenska Academy, examined children, adolescents and young adults in the age groups of three years old, six years old, 12 to 16 and 18 to 24, with and without asthma.

The first study revealed that three year olds who suffer from asthma have more caries than those the same age without asthma.

She said: ‘The children with asthma had a greater tendency to breathe through the mouth; they became dry in the mouth and were therefore given sugary drinks more often. This may have contributed to them developing higher caries prevalence.’

These children were then followed in a study from the age of three to six. It became clear that the three year olds with asthma subsequently developed more caries than children without asthma.

The scientists have also compared the oral health of adolescents aged 12 to 16 who had long-term moderate or severe asthma with that of adolescents of the same age without asthma.

‘Only one out of 20 in the asthma group was caries-free, while 13 out of 20 were caries-free in the control group. One factor that may have influenced the development of caries is a somewhat lower level of saliva secretion, which was probably caused by the medication taken by those with asthma. Adolescents with asthma also suffered more often from gingivitis than those without asthma,’ says Malin.

The work also examined the oral health of young adults aged 18 to 24, with and without asthma. The results from this age group were nearly identical with those in the group of 12- to 16-year-olds, although the differences between those with asthma and those without were not as large.

Malin points out that the numbers of participants in the studies were relatively small, and it may be difficult to generalise the results. What is interesting, however, is that young people with asthma have more caries than those without asthma, even in those participants who came from an area with relatively good oral health.

Malin continues: ‘The study is particularly reliable because the groups are homogenous with respect to age and area of residence. Further, the participants with asthma had all been accurately diagnosed by a specialist. One of the studies is longitudinal, and this gives extra strength to the results.’

She emphasises the importance of young people with asthma receiving extra dental care early on, and that a preventive oral health programme should be established to link the healthcare system and the dental care system.

To access the initial research click here, and for the follow-up paper click here.