Smokers have greatly elevated risk for severe gum disease, study finds
ATLANTA (CNN) -- People who smoke cigarettes are about four times more likely than nonsmokers to have advanced gum disease, according to a study reported in the May issue of the Journal of Periodontology.
In the first national study to show how widespread the problem is, smoking was found to contribute to more than half of the periodontitis cases in the study, said Dr. Scott Tomar, a researcher with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Cigarette smoking may well be the major preventable risk factor for periodontal disease," he said in a statement.
Periodontitis is an advanced gum disease caused by bacteria contained in plaque buildup. It destroys the tissue and bone surrounding the teeth and if left untreated, it can cause the teeth to become loose or even fall out.
Jack Caton, president of the American Academy of Periodontology, said periodontists are well aware of the devastating effects of smoking on oral health and the new study should serve as a wake up call.
"I hope the staggering statistics from this study will compel even more dental care providers to get involved in tobacco cessation efforts," he said.
A recent online survey by the AAP found that most periodontists advise their patients to kick the habit.
Smoking can impair the immune system and reduce the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the gums, explained Dr. Robert Genco, the journal's editor. Studies have shown that smokers lose more teeth than nonsmokers, and heal more slowly after periodontal treatment.
The researchers analyzed government health data from more than 12,000 people. They found that people who currently smoke more than a pack and a half of cigarettes a day were nearly six times more likely than nonsmokers to have periodontitis. Those who smoked less than half a pack daily were almost three times more likely to have the disease.
Smoking and periodontitis were both more common in black men and low-income adults. Those findings mesh with U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher's report last week on the nation's oral health, which found a "silent epidemic" of oral disease among minorities and low-income Americans.
The study did have one positive finding for former smokers. The data showed that 11 years after quitting, former smokers were no more likely to have periodontal disease than nonsmokers.
"The good news is that quitting seems to gradually erase the harmful effects of tobacco use," Tomar said.