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Study: Second-Hand Smoke Promotes Cavities in Kids

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Having healthy teeth is plenty to smile about. But if he's been around cigarette smoke, he's a lot more likely to have a cavity. That's according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Andrew Aligne, pediatrician: "Children with tobacco smoke exposure were almost twice as likely as other children to have dental cavities in their baby teeth."

Researchers studied more than 3,500 children aged four to 11, reviewing their dental records as well as blood tests for the chemical cotinine, a by-product of nicotine.

Dr. Andrew Aligne: "Your body breaks down nicotine to excrete it. One of the breakdown products is cotinine, and we can measure that. So it's a very good measure of how much tobacco you've been exposed to."

Kids with high levels of cotinine were more likely to havae cavities, no matter how often they went to the dentist, and regardless of the family's income, education level, or race.

Dr. Andrew Aligne: "Poor kids are more likely to have cavities, but children who have high cotinine are more likely to have cavities whether they're poor or not."

As for why second-hand smoke would cause cavities, there are several explanations. Nicotine promotes the bacteria and plaque that causes cavities. Passive smoke can weaken the immune system, making it harder to fight the bacteria. What's more, it also decreases vitamin C levels in children, another risk factor for cavities.

This study is just one more reason to keep kids away from second-hand smoke.

The researchers say if you take second-hand smoke out of the equation, you'd see 27 percent fewer cavities in kids. That's paticularly important when you consider we spend more than $4 billion a year treating tooth decay in children.

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