Children With More PFAS in Their Blood More Likely to Develop Cavities

Dentistry Today
WVU Photo/Aira Burkhart


WVU Photo/Aira Burkhart

Children with higher concentrations of perfluorodecanoic acid in their blood are more likely to get cavities, according to researchers at the West Virginia University School of Dentistry who investigated whether perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances including perfluorodecanoic acid have any impact on oral health. 

Although manufacturers no longer use PFAS substances to make nonstick cookware, carpet, cardboard, and other products, they persist in the environment as a result of extensive manufacturing and use. They have been linked to a range of health problems, including heart disease and high cholesterol. 

“Due to the strong chemical bonds of PFAS, it is difficult for them to break down, which makes them more likely to be persistent within the environment, especially in drinking water systems,” said Christopher Waters, who directs the school’s research labs. “A majority of people may not be aware that they are using water and other projects that contain PFAS.”

The 629 children in the study were between the ages of 3 and 11 and part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Samples of their blood were analyzed for PFAS in 2013 and 2014. Tooth decay and other factors such as their race, body mass index, and how often they brushed their teeth were assessed. 

Of the seven PFAS substances the researchers analyzed, perfluorodecanoic acid correlated with higher levels of tooth decay.

“Perfluorodecanoic acid, in particular, has a long molecular structure and strong chemical bonds. Therefore, it remains in the environment longer. As a result, it is more likely to have negative health consequences such as dental caries,” said R. Constance Wiener, DMD, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Dental Practice and Rural Health. 

According to other research, perfluorodecanoic acid may disrupt the healthy development of enamel and leave teeth susceptible to decay. But when it comes to cavities, scientists haven’t figured out perfluorodecanoic acid’s mechanism of action. The researchers say this topic warrants further investigation. 

“While the findings of this study are important, there are some study limitations, and more work is needed to fully understand how this molecule impacts normal tooth formation,” said Fotinos Panagakos, DMD, PhD, MA, MBA, the School of Dentistry’s vice dean for administration and research.

“The good news is that, in our study, about half of the children did not have any measurable amount of PFAS, Perhaps this is due to certain PFAS no longer being made in the US,” said Wiener.

The study also reaffirmed the importance of dental hygiene and checkups, the researchers said. Children who brushed once a day or less frequently had significantly higher tooth decay than those who brushed at least twice daily. Also, children who had not been to the dentist in the previous two years were twice as likely to have higher rates of tooth decay than those who had.

So even though parents can’t control what is in their children’s drinking water, the researchers said, they can still protect their children’s teeth by fostering thorough, regular brushing and scheduling dental exams. To help, the school will provide free exams, cleanings, and fluoride treatment for more than a hundred children on Give Kids A Smile Day on Friday, February 7.

The study, “Perfluoroalkyls/Polyfluoroalkyl Substances and Dental Caries Experience in Children, Ages 3-11 Years, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2013-2014,” was published by the Journal of Public Health Dentistry.

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