Young Scientist Case Study: Inhalers can lead to tooth decay

Emma Drummond, Matilda Skipp Prendergast, and Jay Fitzgibbon from Coláiste Choilm, Cork

Frequent use of steroid inhalers to treat asthma reduces the natural bacteria in the mouth and can lead to tooth decay.

That is what three students from Cork found when they swabbed asthmatic pupils in their school and recorded the frequency of their inhaler use.

The second-year students from Coláiste Choilm, Ballincollig, Co Cork, focused on lactobacillus as an indicator of the effects that inhalers for asthma have on the mouth.

Jay Fitzgibbon, 13; Matilda Skipp-Prendergast, 14; and Emma Drummond, 14, compared the dental microflora of people with and without asthma.

One boy who used an inhaler frequently was found to have the most tooth erosion.

Emma explained that saliva acts as an acidic barrier in the mouth — it is made up of different bacteria and using an inhaler frequently wore it down.

Young Scientist Case Study: Inhalers can lead to tooth decay

The Microbiology Department at University College Cork allowed the students use its facilities and equipment during their investigation.

The girls examined four groups of boys and girls as part of their investigation.

We found a definite correlation between frequent usage of inhalers and the presence of lactobacillus — a major part of the lactic acid bacteria group, in the mouth,” said Matilda.

“One candidate in particular had far less bacteria in his mouth — he uses an inhaler six times a day.”

None of the students conducting the study suffer from asthma — a chronic lung disease, but have siblings who do.

Anyone can develop asthma and it is particularly common in Ireland — 470,000 adults and children have the condition.

There are more than 600 types of bacteria in the mouth but Jay said they chose lactobacillus to carry out their experiment because it was a ‘good’ bacteria.

“People with asthma should get their teeth checked regularly because they do tend to have a higher rate of tooth erosion,” said Jay.

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