Youngsters with asthma have higher risk of cavities

Asthma and tooth decay—two of the most common health problems affecting children, adolescents and young adults—may sock a one-two punch, according to a researcher in Sweden.

In a thesis presented at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg in December 2010, dental hygienist and researcher Malin Stensson compared patients with and without asthma at ages 3, 6, 12 to16 and 18 to 24.

In her first study, Ms. Stensson found that 3-year-olds with asthma had more cavities than 3-year-olds without asthma.

"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 (cavities) prevalence," said Ms. Stensson.

The study group children were followed to age 6, and data showed that the children with asthma developed more cavities over time than their asthma-free counterparts.

Other studies have compared adolescents ages 12 to 16, and found that those with long-term moderate or severe asthma had more cavities than the asthma-free youths. The asthma group also had more gum disease.

"Only 1 out of 20 in the asthma group was caries-free, while 13 out of 20 were caries free in the control group," said Ms. Stensson. She theorizes that asthma medications may inhibit saliva secretions, leading to more cavities.

Young adults with asthma studied between ages 18 to 24 also showed higher rates of cavities, although the differences between their counterparts without asthma were not as striking.

Ms. Stensson emphasizes that young people with asthma need extra dental care and preventive dental services to help prevent cavities and gum disease.

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