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Childhood tooth decay and eczema linked

New research from our NIHR Biomedical Research Centre has shown that babies with eczema are at greater risk of developing tooth decay as a toddler, and are now looking for a shared cause.

Eczema is a skin condition that causes areas of skin to become itchy, dry, cracked, sore and red. Atopic eczema, the most common form of eczema, is most common in children and often develops before a child’s first birthday. In young babies it can be associated with allergies to foods, which generally improve as the baby’s immune system matures.

A team of researchers, including Professor Keith Godfrey, Director of the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, has identified a link between atopic eczema and tooth decay in early childhood.

The results, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, could help to identify children most at risk of these common conditions, so they can be prevented or treated sooner.

Discovering the link

The study looked at children from Growing Up in Singapore Towards healthy Outcomes (GUSTO), a long-term project on the health of mothers and their children in pregnancy and early childhood.

The researchers asked parents if their child had ever had atopic eczema, and if the answer was yes, went on perform skin prick testing to a variety of possible allergens.

After comparing this against the children’s dental record at ages two and three, they found children with atopic eczema and a positive skin prick test reaction were more likely to develop tooth decay.

Delving deeper into the cause

The researchers are now investigating the cause of this link between tooth decay and eczema, and why these children are more susceptible to them.

They suspect that the increased susceptibility to both conditions might stem from an underlying structural problem, making the surface of the children’s teeth and skin less able to act as a barrier.

To find out if the two conditions could have a shared genetic cause, they will study genes such as Dlx-3, which is involved in both the formation of tooth enamel and the development of the skin.


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