Study Explores How Secondhand Smoke May Affect Children's Teeth

A possible link exists between secondhand smoke and caries—or cavities—in children, according to a scientific article published in The Journal of the American Dental Association.

Authors reviewed 15 high-quality observational studies and discovered that 10 of the studies showed a weak to moderate link between cavities in primary teeth and secondhand smoke. The five other studies showed a weak link between secondhand smoke and permanent teeth.

According to the JADA article, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regards cavities as the most prevalent chronic disease in children ages 6 to 11 years and in teens ages 12 to 19 years. A cavity is tooth decay that has destroyed tooth enamel, which is the hard, outer layer of teeth.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services aims to reduce the prevalence of cavities in children by 10 percent by 2020. The prevalence of cavities in American children ages 3 to 5 years in 1999–2004 was 33.3 percent, according to Healthy People 2020--an initiative by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to improve the health of all Americans. Healthy People determined that the prevalence of cavities in children ages 6 to 9 years was 54.4 percent and 53.7 percent in children 13 to 15 years.

Dentists want to understand the link between human behaviors and the development of cavities, especially as dentistry moves from surgical treatment of caries to prevention and medical management that accounts for a person’s risks toward the disease. Factors for high-cavities risk include low socioeconomic status, a diet high in refined carbohydrates, low fluoride exposure and poor or infrequent oral hygiene.

Secondhand smoke also may prove to be a risk factor, though more research is needed to affirm it as causing cavities.

The American Dental Association has valuable information about cavities on its consumer website, MouthHealthy.org. Click the A-Z Topics section from the home page to access individual topics by alphabet.

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