Secondhand Smoke and Gum Disease in Children



Hopefully, you have either never been a smoker or you quit before or since you’ve had children. Notwithstanding your commitment to a smoke-free environment, your children may be exposed to secondhand smoke when visiting the homes of family or friends who smoke cigarettes, cigars or pipes. You know that smoking is detrimental to health, causing stains, bad breath and other problems but research has proven that even secondhand smoke can affect your child’s gums and teeth.


What Oral Health Challenges Can Occur from Secondhand Smoke?


Gum Disease

When plaque builds up under the gums, periodontal disease is the result and can lead to infection, bleeding, tenderness and even tooth loss. Children who are exposed to secondhand smoke have a higher rate of severe gum disease than children who are not exposed.


Bone Loss

The American Academy of Periodontology did a study in 2007 showing that exposure to just 30 days of secondhand smoke leads to higher oral bone loss in children than in children not exposed. Essentially, the chemicals in smoke cause the bone tissue in the mouth to deteriorate.


Tooth Decay

Studies show that children routinely exposed to secondhand smoke have a 27% higher risk of cavities than children that are not exposed to secondhand smoke at home.


Oral Cancer

Cigarettes, cigars and pipe tobacco contain carcinogens. Exposure to secondhand smoke has been proven to increase a person’s risk for oral cancer.



Secondhand smoke exposure has been shown to increase the risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.


Other Health Problems Associated with Secondhand Smoke

Obviously, secondhand smoke exposure is problematic for everyone, but especially for youngsters. Children exposed to secondhand smoke on a regular basis are sick more often than children in smoke-free environments; they experience more asthma, allergies, coughing and ear infections than do children who live in smoke-free homes.

How You Can Lower Your Child’s Risk

If your children live in a home with a smoker, encourage them to quit smoking. Ask that they smoke outdoors or, at the very least, in another room with adequate ventilation, although this is not a perfect solution. Use air cleaners in your home to diminish the toxins involved with secondhand smoke. Visit at the homes of your children’s friends to discover if they’re being exposed to secondhand smoke when they go for playdates or sleepovers. Yes, I know this is especially difficult as your children become adolescents and you have less knowledge about what happens in their friends’ homes but if it prevents illness in your child, it’s worth knowing about. If that is the case, invite those children to your smoke-free home to discourage your child’s exposure to secondhand smoke. This can be done casually, without blaming or chastising anyone’s family.


Your children deserve to grow up without exposure to secondhand smoke. It’s OK to be vigilant about this. If you need additional advice, let me know. I’m happy to guide you.