More Bad News for Smokers

***UPDATED: March 7, 2013*** And the bad news keeps rolling in.  According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association and described in a Science Daily article, postmenopausal women who either currently smoke, or have previously smoked, are much more susceptible to tooth loss due to periodontal disease.  Xiaodan Mai, a doctoral student in epidermiology involved with the research states that periodontal disease leading to tooth loss is very prevalent among postmenopausal women, and it severely impacts their dietary intake, aesthetics, and overall quality of life.  Mai hopes that the study will give women of all ages yet another, very tangible reason to quit smoking.

As if the risk of lung cancer and other deadly conditions weren’t enough to convince you to quit smoking, a new study has now shown that the bad habit causes the body to destroy helpful bacteria, making smokers more susceptible to disease.  According to the Medical News Today article, “Smoking Zaps Healthy Bacteria in the Mouth, Welcomes Pathogens,” within a few hours of birth, bacteria begin forming in your mouth.  The communities formed by these bacteria are referred to biofilms, and they help keep bad bacteria from settling in.  A non-smoker’s mouth maintains a stable environment, which becomes chaotic and much more diverse when smoking cigarettes is introduced, allowing pathogens to move in causing much higher rates of oral diseases, such as gum disease.

Purnima Kumar, assistant professor of periodontology at the Ohio State University led a team in a study that looked at how the biofilms grew back after professional cleanings in both smokers and nonsmokers.  The team found that in the nonsmoking subjects tested, the healthy ecosystem of bacterium that was removed grew back almost identically to the original state, with disease-associated bacteria nowhere to be found.  This was not the case among the subjects who smoke.  Kumar stated that, “by contrast, smokers start getting colonized by pathogens-bacteria that we know are harmful-within 24 hours.”  They also found that the swabs of smokers showed higher levels of cytokines, which are compounds the body produces to fight off infections, proving that the new bacteria found in the mouth was being treated as a threat by the body, including the healthy bacteria.

According to Kumar, the implications of the study show that dentists need to change the way in which they treat smokers.  Even if a smoker visits their dentist regularly for cleanings, they are at a higher risk of developing gingivitis or other oral issues because the pathogens return so quickly.  She believes that dentists need to take a more active role in discussing the cessation of smoking to their patients; a practice that has traditionally been left to general practitioners.  With all the evidence that has been gathered and released to the public, hopefully more people will give up the bad habit and start taking better care of their bodies.

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