A new study by researchers at the University of Birmingham and the German Institute of Human Nutrition reports that heavy and regular smokers have a significantly increased risk of tooth loss. The long-term study, published in the Journal of Dental Research, sought to prove that smoking can actually hide the effects of gum disease.
Researchers collected data from 23,376 participants using data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. The study states that male patients who smoke are 3.6 times more likely to lose their teeth than non-smokers, and females who smoke were 2.6 times more likely.
The data also showed the heavy association between smoking and tooth loss for younger people, who typically tend to smoke more than adults.
In addition to an increase of tooth decay and loss of teeth, regular smoking can also mask some of the key symptoms of gum disease. Fox News reports that the gums of a smoker may appear healthier than they actually are, as smoking can cover up gum bleeding, a telling sign of disease.
“Most teeth are lost as a result of either caries (tooth decay) or chronic periodontitis (gum disease),” says lead author Thomas Dietrich, a professor at the University of Birmingham. “We know that smoking is a strong risk factor for periodontitis, so that may go a long way towards explaining the higher rate of tooth loss in smokers.”
According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, 69% of adults between the ages of 35 to 44 have lost at least one tooth due to an accident, gum disease, failed root canal, or decay. Typically, lost teeth must be replaced with dental implants, which can be an expensive procedure.
“The good news is that quitting smoking can reduce the risk fairly quickly,” says Dietrich. “Eventually, an ex-smoker would have the same risk for tooth loss as someone who had never smoked.”
Despite the benefits, Dietrich warns that the risk of tooth loss can take more than 10 years to reach the same level of risk for a non-smoker. He hopes that their findings can give young people the motivation to quit before they develop more serious health issues, such as lung disease.