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Secondhand Smoke and Cavities in Kids

Jun 15, 2016

By Dean George

A recent study hints of a possible new potential threat concerning the debilitating effects of secondhand smoke on young children: cavities.

According to a recent article published in, The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA), 10 of 15 observational studies revealed a weak to moderate link between cavities in primary teeth and secondhand smoke. (The evidence was weaker in proving that secondhand smoke caused cavities in permanent teeth).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cites cavities as the most common chronic disease in children 6-11 years old and in teens between ages 12-19.

David Leader, an Associate Professor of Diagnosis and Health Promotion at Tufts University, suggests future studies look at the amount of nicotine in the bloodstream of young children exposed to secondhand smoke.

Leader says only one of the 15 studies measured cotinine, a byproduct of nicotine, to see how much smoke children had been exposed to.

“After going over all these studies, I believe that looking at serum cotinine is going to be the pathway to learning whether secondhand smoke is a risk factor for tooth decay,” Leader says.

Dentists are working to understand the connection between behaviors and cavities since modern dentistry is focused on risk prevention and medical management rather than surgical treatment of cavities.

As previously reported in our blog, the number of children with tooth decay by kindergarten has risen steadily over the years and is presently over 40%. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), reports 54.4% of children with cavities ages 6-9 and 53.7% in teens 13 to 15.

Leader believes more research is needed to prove that secondhand smoke is a proven risk factor in causing cavities. Currently proven risk factors include low socioeconomic status, diets high in refined carbohydrates, low fluoride exposure and infrequent oral hygiene. says that children exposed to secondhand smoke: are sick more often, are more susceptible to pneumonia and bronchitis and have more ear infections. Secondhand smoke can also trigger asthma attacks or make asthma symptoms worse in kids.

“Regardless of the nature of the association with cavities, tobacco use and secondhand smoke are severe health risks, and oral healthcare providers are in an advantageous position to provide tobacco use cessation counseling,” Leader says.

Some dental plans offer tobacco counseling as a preventive benefit at no charge. To find plans available in your area, click here

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Copyright 2016, Bloom Insurance Agency, LLC

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