MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — What’s in your child’s drinking water? Unfortunately, it’s probably not just H2O. Researchers at West Virginia University have discovered that PFAs, a group of manufactured chemicals that include perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, can cause tooth decay in children. Making matters worse is the fact that PFAs are found consistently in U.S. drinking water supplies all over the country.
PFAs can be found throughout our environment due to decades of prolonged use in the production of various products such as rugs, cook ware, and cardboard. Manufacturers no longer use PFAs, but these persistent chemicals nonetheless remain all around us. Moreover, PFAs have been linked to a number of health problems such as heart disease and high cholesterol.
This is the first time, though, that researchers have discovered these chemicals can be detrimental to oral health as well. More specifically, higher concentrations of a certain type of PFA called perfluorodecanoic acid was found to promote tooth decay in children.
“Due to the strong chemical bonds of PFAS, it is difficult for them to breakdown, which makes them more likely to be persistent within the environment, especially in drinking water systems,” explains Christopher Waters, director of the WVU School of Dentistry’s research labs, in a release. “A majority of people may not be aware that they are using water and other products that contain PFAS.”
For the research, 628 children between the ages of three and 11 years old were enlisted. Each participant’s blood was sampled and tested for the presence of PFAs. Additionally, each child’s tooth health, frequency of brushing, race, and BMI were recorded.
The research team analyzed seven different variations of PFA, and perfluorodecanoic acid correlated with higher levels of tooth decay among the children.
“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,” comments Dr. R. Constance Wiener, an associate professor in the Department of Dental Practice and Rural Health.
While the research team aren’t entirely sure why this type of PFA is so detrimental to tooth health, they hypothesize that it interferes with the development of enamel, leaving teeth more vulnerable to decay.
“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,” says Fotinos Panagakos, the WVU 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,” Dr. Wiener adds.
On another positive note for all the concerned parents reading this, the research suggests that the tried and true strategy of brushing one’s teeth twice a day still serves as a strong defensive approach against tooth decay, regardless of PFA presence. Children who reported only brushing once or less per day had significantly more tooth decay across the board.
In conclusion, the study’s authors recommend that parents focus on the dental factors they can control: ensuring that children brush twice daily and make periodic visits to their local dentist for checkups.
The study is published in The Journal Of Public Health Dentistry.