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Links between smoking and gum disease

There has always been a significant link between smoking and gum disease. According to a new study at Ohio State University, smoking causes the body to turn against its own helpful bacteria, leaving smokers more vulnerable to gum disease, and tooth decay. Smokers suffer from a much higher rate of oral disease than the non smoking population. Research shows that cigarette smoke wipes out good bacteria in the mouth making the tissue much more susceptible to attack from bad bacteria. The mouth is an interesting environment full of both good and bad bacteria. The mouth develops what is called a bio-film which plays host to these bacteria. If the good bacteria keep getting wiped the bad tends to thrive and that is where oral health problems begin.

In a recent study researchers at Ohio State University took oral sample of bio-film from 15 smokers and 15 non smokers after a series of annual cleanings. The researchers found that with non smokers disease associated bacteria was largely absent. In contrast the smokers in the group started colonizing harmful pathogens within the first 24 hours. It took much longer for smokers to form a stable microbial community. When it did become established it was much more pathogen rich than the bio-film in the mouth of non smokers. Researchers found that smokers also tend to have more cases of red and swollen gums (gingivitis) because the body is mounting defense against the increased risk of infection. Left untreated this can lead to the irreversible form of bone loss called periodontitis.

Researchers are advising dentists that they need to treat the oral health needs of smokers much more aggressively. It starts with making the patient aware of the need to promote a healthy bio-film in the mouth after cleanings. It should also evolve into more dentists becoming involved in recommending smoking cessation programs. This hasn’t been the role of the dentist in the past but more and more of them are beginning to take an active role.

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