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Second-hand smoke harms children's health


Thinking about lighting up in front of a little one? Think again. Children are extremely vulnerable to the ill effects of secondhand smoke. Exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory illness, asthma, middle ear infections, and even tooth decay. Almost 60 percent of U.S. children 3 to 11 years old—almost 22 million—are exposed to secondhand smoke.

Exposure to secondhand smoke can be measured by the level of cotinine in the body. Cotinine is a by-product of nicotine, which is found in tobacco. Children who live in homes where smoking is allowed have higher cotinine levels than children who live in smoke-free homes. Some research has shown that children with higher cotinine levels have a greater risk for dental cavities.

If cavities go untreated, they can cause pain and dysfunction, alter a child’s appearance, and lead to absences from school—problems that can greatly affect a child’s quality of life. In addition, the more secondhand smoke a child is exposed to the more likely the child will become a smoker as an adolescent or an adult. Smoking has serious negative effects on the entire body, including the mouth, teeth, and gums. Besides bad breath and stained, yellow teeth, smokers also are at a greater risk for the following:

  • Oral cancer

  • Lung cancer

  • Heart disease

  • Periodontal (gum) disease—a leading cause of tooth loss

  • Slower healing after a tooth extraction or other oral surgery

  • Decreased sense of smell and taste

No amount of secondhand smoke is safe for children. If you smoke, speak with your doctor or dentist about the best way for you to quit. It’s important for your health and the health of your children.



“Secondhand and Prenatal Tobacco Smoke Exposure.”American Academy of Pediatrics. Accessed 2013.

“Household Smoking as a Risk Indicator for Caries in Adolescents’ Permanent Teeth.” A. Ayo-Yusuf Olalekan et al. Journal of Adolescent Health. January 2007, vol. 41, no. 3, pp. 309-11. Accessed 2013.

“The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, June 27, 2006. Accessed 2013.

“Secondhand Smoke: Questions and Answers.” National Cancer Institute, August 1, 2007. Accessed 2013.

“Association of pediatric dental caries with passive smoking.” C.A. Aligne et al. Journal of the American Medical Association. March 12, 2003, vol. 289, no. 10, pp. 1258- 64. Accessed 2013.

“Oral Health: Preventing Cavities, Gum Disease, and Tooth Loss.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 19, 2008. Accessed 2013.

“Childhood predictors of smoking in adolescence: A follow-up study of Montreal schoolchildren.” M.R. Becklake, et al. Canadian Medical Association Journal. August 16, 2005, vol. 173, no. 4, pp. 377-79. Accessed 2013.

“Smoking and Tobacco.” Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. Accessed 2013.

“Secondhand Smoke.” Medline Plus, U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, July 21, 2008. Accessed 2013.

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