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2003 News from Mecklenburg County

March 12, 2003


Charlotte, NC - A new study could help dentists better predict which children may be at greater risk for cavities.  Researchers say kids exposed to secondhand smoke are twice as likely to develop cavities in their primary teeth.

"It is very interesting information," says Dr. Gary Kushner, dental director for the Mecklenburg County Health Department.  "If the research can be replicated in other studies, it may help explain why some children get more cavities."

Kushner says environmental factors such as exposure to secondhand smoke may prove to be a valid part of a patient history. 

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, says exposure to secondhand smoke causes throat inflammation and mouth breathing, which can dry out the mouth.  The lack of saliva to protect the teeth leaves them more susceptible to decay.

"Saliva is extremely important in managing the level of acids in the mouth and protecting the teeth," says Kushner. 

Children who live with smokers or are exposed to secondhand smoke are also more likely to develop colds and ear infections or chronic conditions like asthma.  Kushner says the possible link to tooth decay should give parents one more reason to quit.

Smoking is the number one cause of preventable disease in the United States, responsible for one in five deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. A recent study from Duke University shows that quitting smoking can actually add years to life regardless of age.

The Mecklenburg County Health Department's Project ASSIST (American Stop Smoking Intervention Study) offers a variety of options to help people quit smoking.  For more information or to access resources for quitting, call the Health Department's Project ASSIST coordinator at 704-336-4660.  Or, log on to the Health Department's Web site at and look under the heading Programs and Services.

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