HIV may not raise risk of cavities in children

Even though HIV kills immune cells, many children on therapy do well HIV infection alone isn't enough to suggest an increased risk for cavities," says Modupe Coker. (Credit: Getty Images)

HIV doesn’t increase the risk of dental cavities in children, research finds.

The findings run counter to previous studies on the subject.

The new study in Scientific Reports sampled nearly 300 children in Nigeria from three groups: children who have been HIV-positive since birth and whose mothers are HIV positive; HIV-negative children of HIV-positive mothers; and HIV-negative children of HIV-negative mothers.

Using blood samples, epidemiologist Modupe Coker measured levels of white blood cells, which indicate immunity strength. She found that HIV-positive children with normal immunity levels, often due to successful antiviral treatment, had a lower prevalence of cavities.

HIV-negative children with weakened immune systems, either due to malaria or other underlying conditions, had a higher likelihood of having cavities.

The findings were a surprise, given previous assumptions about HIV and dental disease, says Coker, professor in Rutgers School of Dental Medicine’s department of oral biology. “It debunked our hypothesis but it’s very exciting as it raises new ones.

“HIV infection alone might not be a significant risk factor, which was the assumption. Even though HIV kills immune cells, many children on therapy do well HIV infection alone isn’t enough to suggest an increased risk for cavities. Immune status, function, and competency play much bigger role.”

Further, Coker observed microbial differences in HIV-negative children with HIV-positive mothers. “These children looked more like the HIV-infected children early in life but later on, as they grow older, began to look like their unexposed counterparts with respect to the oral microbiota,” she says.

Coker hopes to use her work involving dental cavities to explore genetics from a broader perspective. Her research is part of a study that examines other aspects of the microbiome in HIV-exposed or infected children, including its relationship to bacterial plaque and candida, a fungal infection that often appears in the mouth.

Source: Rutgers University