Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Oral Care

Font Size

Passive Smoke Linked to Cavities in Children

By
WebMD Health News

May 1, 2001 (Baltimore, Md.) -- If you need another reason to give up smoking, consider the dental health of your children. That's what researchers from the University of Rochester hope parents will do as a result of their new study which finds that children exposed to second-hand smoke are more likely to develop cavities.

Researcher C. Andrew Aligne, MD, assistant professor of general pediatrics at the University of Rochester (N.Y.) School of Medicine, notes that passive, or second-hand smoke, is already linked to a number of health hazards ranging from respiratory problems to cancer.

"It therefore seems plausible that [second-hand smoke] ... might also be a risk factor in dental caries," says Aligne. He presented his findings at the Pediatric Academic Societies' Annual Meeting held here this week.

While the number of cavities has generally gone down in the population in the last few years, that's not true among poor children. Dental problems aren't trivial, according to the U.S. Surgeon General. In addition to causing pain and suffering, children lose 50-million hours of school annually because of bad teeth. Children with cavities also experience problems with eating, speaking, and difficulty in learning.

To find out if there was a connection between smoking parents and cavities, Aligne and colleagues looked at federal health data on nearly 4,000 children, aged 4-11. Although this is the first such study in the U.S., a similar study conducted in Great Britain found there was a connection between passive smoking and cavities.

The researchers evaluated the children's dental records. And they assessed smoking exposure by measuring the blood for cotinine, a by-product of nicotine.

While the problem persists largely in low-income families, the research turned up some interesting general connections between passive smoking and oral health.

For instance, the rate of cavities in children was nearly double in smoking households, even after considering a number of variables including sex, race, dental visits, family income, and nutrition status. In addition, there was what doctors call a dose-response curve -- that is, the more exposure the kids had to passive smoke, the greater the amount of nicotine in their bodies.

Although the researchers detected cavities in both baby teeth and permanent teeth, passive smoking was only associated with decay in the baby teeth.

"For parents, it's not a good idea to smoke around your kid. This is potentially just one more reason on top of all the other good reasons [to quit smoking]," says Aligne.

It's not clear exactly how passive smoking causes cavities, although the nicotine may lead to infections. "What I think is the most powerful potential mechanism is smoking during pregnancy, because it causes low birth weight, and prematurity, and poor growth, including problems with tooth formation," Aligne tells WebMD.

Ultimately Aligne estimates that children who are captives of their parents' exhaled smoke will wind up with some four million excess cases of cavities in these early years of life when they're most vulnerable.

So if your child doesn't get a "Happy Tooth" on his or her next visit, it may be because of too much smoke and not too many sweets. Aligne says it's worth a discussion with your doctor or dentist.

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

Get the latest Oral Health newsletter delivered to your inbox!


or
Answer:
Never
(0)
Good
(1-3)
Better
(4-6)
Best
(7)

You are currently

Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

Start Over

Step:  of 

Today on WebMD

big smile
Article
Man grinding teeth
Article
 
Close-up of toothbrush
Health Check
how your mouth impacts your health
Slideshow
 

are battery operated toothbrushes really better
Video
bpa dental sealants
Video
 
Healthy Mouth Slideshow
Video
Young woman holding lip at dentists office
Video
 

15 myths and facts about cavities
Video
how healthy is your mouth
Video
 
elmo brushing teeth
fitVideo
5 ways to prevent diabetes dental problems
Video