New Study Shows Smoking Kills Healthy Mouth Bacteria

Published:March 3rd, 2012

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A recent study has shown smoking tends to kill healthy bacteria in the mouth, leaving it vulnerable to the invasion of harmful bacteria. Bacteria begin forming in the mouth a few hours after birth and the healthy bacteria help keep the bad bacteria at bay. A healthy person’s mouth will contain many varieties of bacteria, many of which are beneficial, and numbers are kept low by daily brushing and flossing. However a smoker’s mouth has quite a different ecosystem and is far more likely to be invaded by harmful bacteria. Smokers are well known to have a higher rate of oral disease than non-smokers, and a multi-study investigation is being carried out at Ohio State University into the role played by the body’s microbial communities in preventing oral disease.

According to Purnima Kumar, assistant professor of periodontal energy at Ohio State University, the mouth of a smoker is far more likely to eliminate good bacteria, allowing bad bacteria to grow at a far faster rate than in non-smokers. The research team looked at the way bacterial ecosystems begin to grow after being eliminated and compared 15 healthy non-smokers with 15 healthy smokers. Each participant had their mouth professionally cleaned, and the researchers took samples of oral bio-films one day after cleaning, as well as on day two, day four and seven days after cleaning. Oral bio-films are communities of bacteria and can be healthy or harmful. The researchers wanted to see which bacteria were present, and also looked at the way the participants body treated the bacteria. If the body views bacteria as being a threat, then the sample would have a higher level of cytokines which are produced by the body to help fight infection.

The research showed an interesting contrast as bacterial communities in non-smokers were very similar to those present before the professional cleaning. Harmful bacteria were largely absent with only a low level of cytokines as the body didn’t need to fight infection. The samples from smokers showed their mouths being colonised by a similar level of harmful bacteria within the first day after the professional cleaning, and they had higher levels of cytokines showing the body was trying to fight the infection. The study showed something else that is very interesting; the smokers bodies were also trying to fight healthy bacteria as for some reason even good bacteria was being viewed as a threat. The research team think it’s possible that smoking may confuse the communication that normally occurs between healthy bacteria and the mouth, making it far more difficult for a smoker’s mouth to maintain a healthy ecosystem.

Whatever the reason, the study does show the real risk presented by smoking, and that any oral diseases need to be treated more aggressively due to the high risk of harmful bacteria returning more quickly. The trouble is few dentists talk to their patients about the need to give up smoking, and it’s really up to the individual to try to kick the habit, although the NHS does offer a lot of free advice, and it’s well worth taking a look.


About the author

Alison, is a UK born and educated dental professional with over 25 years experience.

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