Nearly a half million Americans die of a smoking-related illness each year. Since the mid 1900s, an overwhelming body of research has demonstrated how smoking causes devastating harm to the mouth, lungs, heart, and other vital organ systems. Few habits are known to cause more harm to the body, yet an estimated 16 million Americans continue to use tobacco while living day-to-day with smoking-related illnesses (i).
Earlier this year, researchers published findings that demonstrate how even secondhand smoke can double the risk of cavities among children. Just last week, another study gained media attention for shedding light on how smoking alters the mouth’s microbiome. Now, researchers believe tobacco habits can inhibit the mouth’s ability to break down toxins, which can also lead to increased rates of tooth decay and gum infection (ii).
Smoking and the Oral Microbiome
You might be shocked to learn the mouth is home to approximately 600 types of bacteria. Each of these bacteria plays a unique role in helping to break down food and maintain a healthy environment for the teeth and gums. But what happens when these cultures of “good bacteria” fall out of balance?
Researchers at the New York University Langone Medical Center pursued the answer to that question, analyzing 1,204 mouthwash samples from American adults. One hundred and twelve participants were smokers while 521 had no history of smoking. Researchers took inventory of all oral bacteria using genetic tests and statistical data. Not surprisingly, the oral microbiome of smokers differed significantly from that of non-smokers.
Specifically, smokers had 10% more species of Streptococcus, a bacteria known to promote tooth decay. (iii)
Commenting on the study, one researcher remarked, “Further experiments are planned to determine the precise timeline for microbiome recovery.” In understanding how quickly the microbiome can recover, smokers might be able to restore their oral health after ditching their tobacco habit.
Holistic Dentistry at Assure A Smile
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(i) Brazier, Yvette. “Cigarette smoking alters the mouth microbiota.” Medical News Today. Accessed 15 April 2016.
(ii) See above.
(iii) Press release: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-03/nlmc-art032916.php