Secondhand 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:
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.
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