Smoking while pregnant can cause all types of problems in utero and long after the child’s birth. Doctors warn newly pregnant women that smoking cigarettes can cause your child to have respiratory problems, attention difficulties, low birth weight, and even death. But smoking may cause more problems than we currently know.
How about your teeth? Do prenatal smoking and the number of cigarettes smoked by the mother each day have an effect on early childhood caries in their offspring? Does the smoking practices of the father/partner have a prenatal impact as well?
Prenatal Smoking And The Risk Of Early Childhood Caries: A Prospective Cohort Study looks at mothers who documented smoking while pregnant and then studies their children’s dental status at various points as they age. Many studies have been done on the effects of second-hand smoke on children and the medical issues these children suffer after a prenatal experience with nicotine, but what about their teeth’s future?
Researchers decided to dismiss the fact that smoking is more dangerous during certain times of the pregnancy than in others, and the mothers and their partners only smoked actual paper/tobacco cigarettes and not e-cigarettes, which are relatively new but should also be evaluated in further research.
The mothers reported how many cigarettes they smoked each day throughout the pregnancy and were placed into a category. Some women smoked one to four cigarettes a day while another smoked anywhere from five to nine. Heavier smokers had ten to fourteen a day, and others had fifteen to nineteen. Many mothers smoke more than a pack (20+) a day, and others who smoked up to two packs a day.
Their children’s teeth were then evaluated after birth three different times during their development, at 31 months, 43 months, and five years old. The children’s primary teeth were the target at the time of their eruption, and their state at eruption was key to the study.
Adult teeth weren’t included in the study because most of the damage these teeth suffer is from external lifestyle choices and not in utero damage.
Results of Prenatal Smoking
Many high school health classes teach their students that it doesn’t matter how many cigarettes you smoke; you will suffer the same deadly consequences of smoking one cigarette a day compared to an entire pack. This obviously isn’t true and only serves as a scare tactic for children. This definitely isn’t accurate when we are speaking of the effects of smoking on a fetus and the problems they may face in the future.
Researchers discovered that the more a woman smoked during her pregnancy, the more caries their child will have. The kids whose mothers smoked less than ten cigarettes a day were 10% more likely to get caries and other related problems. Additional cigarettes, in increments of ten, increase the chance by 34-38%.
It was very interesting that these children’s primary teeth erupted prematurely, and the more a mother smoked, the earlier the teeth erupted. These teeth are then subject to bacteria and other substances longer than the average children’s teeth.
Many new mothers aren’t really aware of when they should take their children to the dentist for the first time, especially when their teeth erupt early, so, outside this study, the children of smokers may be suffering from problems that they can’t yet express.
Partner Smoking Effects
Second-hand smoke can affect an unborn child, though not as significantly as the mother directly introduces the toxins into her own body. Just breathing in the smoke from another person’s cigarette can cause problems in anyone, but an unborn baby is taking in the same poisons that the mother is. Many of the women who repeatedly reported being present while their partner smoked had children who were more sensitive to caries than the average child.
Pregnant women are educated on smoking by their doctors, especially when pregnant, but the effect cigarettes have on their future primary teeth probably isn’t mentioned. As dental professionals, we should educate our patients about cigarettes beyond the well-known risks, especially when our patient is pregnant. Most women are unaware of the damage that smoking may do to their children’s teeth.