Secondhand Smoke Could Cause Cavities in Children

May 31, 2002

A new study shows that children whose parents smoke are more likely to develop cavities, according to a May 29 press release from the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Researchers at the University of Rochester's Strong Children's Research Center analyzed data from the third National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey, which provided a nationally representative sample of 3,873 children. The children had dental examinations and a blood test measuring their cotinine levels, which is a quantitative marker for tobacco-smoke exposure.

The researchers found that 47 percent of the children in the study had cavities in their deciduous (baby) teeth and 26 percent had cavities in permanent teeth. The researchers determined that secondhand smoke was most associated with cavities in deciduous teeth.

"This study should serve as a sobering wake-up call to parents who still don't see the danger in smoking around their children," said pediatrician Andrew Aligne, M.D., the study's lead author. "We already know smoking isn't good for us and here's another reason. This study indicates that secondhand smoke accounts for a significant proportion of cavities in children."

Aligne said the study's findings should encourage more dentists to discuss the dangers of smoking with their patients.

"Dentists want people to understand what a big problem cavities are, and I think they're right," Aligne said. "If dentists want to take the next step in the fight to prevent cavities, they should educate their patients about the harmful effects of smoking.

"If a child has a cavity, the dentist should explain to parents that smoking may be the cause. I'm sure they say, 'Don't eat too many sweets,' but perhaps they should also say, 'Do you know what causes cavities? New research shows that secondhand smoke may cause cavities. Maybe that's another reason you should try to quit.'"

The study's findings were presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual conference, held recently in Baltimore, Md.

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