Smokers, Watch Those Pearly Whites

Smokers may have raised tooth loss risk


Here’s another reason to quit smoking: your teeth.

A new study from the UK found that regular smokers may be at a higher risk of tooth loss than nonsmokers. Smoking is known to increase the risk of gum disease, which may be the reason behind these findings.

"Most teeth are lost as a result of either caries (tooth decay) or chronic periodontitis (gum disease)," said lead study author Thomas Dietrich, MD, DMD, a epidemiologist in dental medicine at the University of Birmingham in the UK, in a press release. "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 these researchers, more than 30 percent of all people in the UK older than 75 have lost all their teeth. Worldwide, that figure is closer to 30 percent for all people older than 60.

For this study, Dr. Dietrich and team used data from the ongoing European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study to look at 23,376 patients who were recruited between 1994 and 1998. This data included information on smoking, tooth loss and other dental health factors.

Men who smoked more than 15 cigarettes a day had more than three times the risk of tooth loss that nonsmokers had. Women who smoked that much had more than twice the risk of tooth loss.

Heavy smokers were also at a higher risk of tooth loss than those who smoked less.

According to Dr. Dietrich and team, smoking can mask gum bleeding (a key symptom of periodontitis). As a result, the gums of a smoker can appear to be healthier than they actually are.

"It's really unfortunate that smoking can hide the effects of gum disease as people often don't see the problem until it is quite far down the line," Dr. Dietrich said. "The good news is that quitting smoking can reduce the risk fairly quickly. Eventually, an ex-smoker would have the same risk for tooth loss as someone who had never smoked, although this can take more than ten years."

This study was published Sept. 14 in the Journal of Dental Research.

No funding sources or conflicts of interest were disclosed.