Second hand smoking and cavities in children?!

Feb 09 2014

Second hand smoking and cavities in children?!

Second hand smoking and cavities in children?!

Smoking is on the decline in many populations in the US, but children and youth still find themselves victim to marketing by manufacturers and secondhand smoke by smokers. Many of the risks of secondhand smoke are well understood by the medical community and the consumer. I am routinely inspired by expecting moms and dads who come seek ways to quit smoking before their child is born. That said, I was pretty surprised when I came across a recent paper.

A study published in January 2014 by  The Journal of the American Dental Association found “limited evidence showing causal relationship between secondhand smoke and cavities in children”. The researchers looked at a complication of 15 peer reviewed publications between 1990 and 2010 which had looked at smoking and cavities in children. The results were found to be true even after the scientists accounted for factors such as socioeconomic status.

So, in other words, parents who expose their children to second hand smoke somehow increase the risk of those children getting cavities on their baby teeth. Kind of wild if you ask me. How could that be? We already know that someone who smokes will discolor their teeth, get dry mouth, have higher tartar and build up of plaque, and even have a much higher chance of getting gum disease (gingivitis and periodontists). But, the possible relationship between secondhand smoking and cavities in kids is still quite crazy in my opinion. Here’s the researchers’ explanation:

Proposed mechanisms linking exposure to SHS (Second Hand Smoking) with caries (cavities) risk include influencing oral microbiota; influencing the mineralization of developing dentition; increasing environmental cadmium levels; decreasing vitamin C levels; decreasing immune function; decreasing the production and effectiveness of saliva by affecting the development and function of salivary glands; and by causing nasal congestion, which could increase mouth breathing.

So the possible explanations for the finding spans everything from microbiology to allergies and it includes the kitchen sink. I found the research findings to be alarming in a sense that we really should look further into it with larger, prospective studies (rather than looking at a collection of smaller studies done in the past). It would be fascinating to be able to pinpoint which (if any) of the proposed mechanisms are the cause behind more cavities in children who are exposed to secondhand smoke. Until then, here’s just another consideration for those caring parents who want to (and are working to) quit smoking.

Dr EftekhariDr. Eftekhari is a proud San Diego native. She received her doctorate from University of the Pacific School of Pharmacy in 2003 as one of their youngest ever graduates. She enjoys the challenges and rewards of interacting with her young patients and their parents as the Director of Pharmacy Services and Clinical Pharmacists at the Children’s Rehabilitation Hospital in Loma Linda. She loves balancing her career and being a mother to her 3 year old active little man, Arman. At home, when she’s not chasing after Arman, she enjoys dancing, cooking, and swimming.

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