A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that kids living in environments with high levels of secondhand smoke are nearly twice as likely to suffer from childhood cavities.
Dr. Andrew Aligne, the author of the JAMA study, visited The Early Show and says the study found a high correlation between the presence of cotinine (a byproduct of nicotine) in kids' bloodstreams and cavities.
From Dr. Aligne's prior research, he says he knew that passive smoking impacted many children's health issues, so he wanted to find out if there was also a link between kids, smoking and dental health. He says there was.
The study concludes that parental smoking may be responsible for nearly 30 percent of all childhood cavities (Only 18 percent of kids who aren't exposed to second hand smoke had cavities).
He hypothesizes from results of other studies that kids born to smokers have thinner tooth enamel, less resistance to the bacteria that causes cavities, less protective saliva and more of the cavity causing bacteria.
Children exposed to passive smoke tended to have more cavities in their deciduous, or primary, teeth, according to Dr. Aligne. He says smoke exposure was still related to cavities even after controlling other potential risk factors for cavities, such as poverty, family education, blood lead level, frequency of visits to the dentist, age, sex and race/ethnicity.
And contrary to the common belief that too many sweets cause tooth decay in children, says Dr. Aligne, a type of bacteria introduced into the mouth — sometimes by a mother's kisses — produces a lactic acid that causes tooth decay.
The study examined about 3,500 children ages 4 to 11 from surveys done between 1988 and 1994, and it concluded one-quarter of the kids would not have developed cavities in their primary teeth if the environmental smoke was eliminated.
Dr. Aligne says the study's finding is important because it shows secondhand smoke can be bad for children with baby teeth, but also adults' tooth formation due to cavities in their youth. And it causes problems in speech development.
Also, exposure to cigarette smoke inhibits the body's ability to fight off infection, making those children who inhale smoke more susceptible to illnesses ranging from colds and earaches to tooth decay, the report said.