Secondhand Smoke Doubles Cavity Risk in Children

Mother smoking in front of child

If you’re looking for a reason to quit smoking, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding one. I can probably come up with a hundred reasons why smoking is a bad idea, but here’s another one for you that involves your children.

Last month a research team from Japan published their findings from an observational study about secondhand smoking and cavities. The team specifically set out to observe the effects of maternal smoking during pregnancy, but found something very significant and unexpected.

The team analyzed data collected between 2004 and 2010 in Kobe City, Japan of children who had checkups at 0, 4, 9, and 18 months, and at 3 years of age. 76,920 kids were involved in the study, which is a very nice sample size. Mothers completed questionnaires to determine household smoking status during and after pregnancy. 55.3% of the kids came from households where at least one family member smoked, mostly fathers, and 6.8% of the kids showed signs of having been in the direct presence of smokers.

The team found the effects of maternal smoking during pregnancy to be negligible for cavity rates in kids. When they examined secondhand smoking, they found that when compared with children from non-smoking families, kids from smoker households had a twofold risk of cavities. Because this was an observational study, no cause-effect relationship can be established in these results, but it is logical to assume that mechanisms are responsible for the findings which have been established in other smoking research.

Children exposed to smoking have lower salivary antibody levels and high levels of sialic acid. Sialic acid enhances the ability of Streptococcus mutans, the bacterial species most responsible for cavity formation. Inflammation of oral tissues is highly likely to be involved, as are damage to salivary glands, immune system dysfunction, and low Vitamin C levels. These are all effects observed in individuals who smoke or are exposed to secondhand smoking.

In short, stop smoking. If you need help there are lots of great resources available to you, but it’s still not an easy habit to break. In my experience, most individuals who have successfully quit go through multiple failed attempts and most have very pressing needs for breaking the habit (new baby in the house, engagement, cancer diagnosis, etc.). As your Orem dentists, Dr. Payne and I are more than happy to help encourage you and help you find some resources to assist you. Make an appointment as soon as possible if you are considering smoking cessation.

-Nicolas K. Young, DMD