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Original Contribution
June 23/30, 1999

Association of Dental Caries and Blood Lead Levels

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Eastman Department of Dentistry (Dr Moss) and Departments of Pediatrics (Ms Auinger), The University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry and Children's Hospital Medical Center, Rochester, NY; and the Department of Pediatrics, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio (Dr Lanphear).

JAMA. 1999;281(24):2294-2298. doi:10.1001/jama.281.24.2294

Context Experiments show that dental caries rates are higher among lead-exposed animals, but this association has not been established in humans.

Objective To examine the relationship between blood lead levels and dental caries.

Design Cross-sectional survey conducted from 1988 to 1994 that included a dental examination and venipuncture blood lead assay.

Setting and Participants A total of 24,901 persons aged 2 years and older who participated in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which assessed the health and nutritional status of children and adults in the United States.

Main Outcome Measures For children aged 2 to 11 years, the sum of decayed and filled deciduous or primary surfaces; for persons aged 6 years and older, the sum of decayed and filled permanent surfaces; for those 12 years and older, the sum of decayed, missing, and filled surfaces.

Results The log of blood lead level was significantly associated with the number of affected surfaces for both deciduous and permanent teeth in all age groups, even after adjusting for sociodemographic characteristics, diet, and dental care. Among children aged 5 to 17 years, a 0.24-µmol/L (5-µg/dL) change in blood lead level was associated with an elevated risk of dental caries (odds ratio, 1.8; 95% confidence interval, 1.3-2.5). Differences in blood lead level explained some of the differences in caries prevalence in different income levels and regions of the United States. We estimated the population attributable risk of lead exposure to be 13.5% and 9.6% of dental caries occurring in 5- to 17-year-olds exposed to the high and moderate levels, respectively.

Conclusions Environmental lead exposure is associated with an increased prevalence of dental caries in the US population. Findings may help explain the distribution of caries by income and region of the United States.