Tooth loss still remains a major health issue around the world. Nineteen percent of Americans 65 and older are “edentulous” or have lost all of their natural teeth. In the UK 15 percent of 65 to 74 year olds are edentulous compared to 30 percent globally within that same age group. Now, a new study has confirmed that people who smoke regularly are more likely to suffer from increased tooth loss than non-smokers.
Interestingly, recent research published in the Journal of Dental Research found that the association between smoking and tooth loss was 3.6 times higher for male smokers and 2.5 times higher for female smokers.
This long-term, longitudinal study of 23,376 participants was a joint effort between researchers at the University of Birmingham (in Britain of course, not suburban Detroit!) and the German Institute of Human Nutrition. Since smoking is a risk factor for periodontitis or gum disease, this study explains the high rate of tooth loss in smokers. In fact, smoking veils many of the symptoms of gum disease, and a smoker may appear to have healthy gum tissue just like any other non-smoker. Infected gums are puffy, red and bleed easily, while the gums of a smoker will stay pale, thin and resist bleeding.
Under those conditions, smoking can hide symptoms for years until the gum disease is in its advanced stages known as periodontitis. Periodontitis is a progressive disease of the tissues (bone and gum) that support our teeth. Without treatment, the attachment of teeth to our jaws gradually disappears along with the supporting bone and gums causing loose teeth and eventual tooth loss (not to mention the effects of chronic gum disease on our breath, our cardiovascular health, etc.). Swollen or receded, red (vs pink) and gums which bleed easily are classic warning signs and the diagnosis is verified by the dentist or hygienist performing a “periodontal chart” to measure pocket depth and calculate attachment loss, as well as x-rays showing bone loss around the teeth. For many reasons, the longer a patient smokes the more the gum disease can rapidly advance into tooth loss. Also, because smokers have less sensation in their mouths, gum disease can sometimes be more difficult to for the layperson to detect with just casual observation.
It’s in the Nicotine….
Tobacco’s most dangerous ingredient is nicotine. Nicotine also happens to be a vasoconstrictor which means it contracts blood vessels reducing the flow of blood to both gum and bones. With a decreased blood supply, our bodies can easily mask the symptoms of disease, and reduce our body’s ability to fight infections.
An article published in the Journal of Dental Research, Dental Clinics, Dental Prospects indicates that smoking plays a role in significantly reducing salivary flow rate (SFR). Since a person’s average daily saliva flow rate is between .5 and 1.5 liters, a reduction means our mouths cannot efficiently sweep away plaque as it was meant to do. Even though brushing and flossing are essential for oral health, lower amounts of saliva means dental plaque will still naturally accumulate putting us at risk for gum disease and tooth decay. (Smokers, who suffer from dry mouth, put themselves at even greater risk for tooth decay (cavities) and tooth loss). As if that isn’t enough, smoking still remains the biggest risk factor to contracting oral cancer (closely followed by HPV or Human Papilloma Virus).
For some smokers, tooth loss and gum disease may be the first real sign they personally receive of the consequences of smoking and nicotine on their overall health. And hopefully, the gum disease diagnosis helps influence them to quit before it manifests into something more life-threatening such as oral or lung cancer, respiratory diseases or cardiovascular disease.
At Dr. Mark Langberg, DDS, MAGD, PC, your dental and overall health is our main priority. Every patient, regardless of their health or lifestyle problems, is treated with non-judgment, understanding and kindness. It is our commitment to highly personal dental care and our relationships with patients that makes us leaders in dentistry in the Southfield, Michigan area. Give us a call at (248) 356- 8790 and see for yourself the difference a great dentist can make!
Until Next Time,
Mark W Langberg, DDS, MAGD
Your Southfield Family Dentist
Tel: (248) 356-8790