Smoking Can Double Risk of Tooth Loss

By May Wilkerson 09/16/15

Smoking can mask the effect it has on gum disease.

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A new study finds that smoking more than doubles your risk of losing your teeth from gum disease, largely because smoking can mask the effects of gum disease and make gums appear healthier.

In the long-term study, German researchers found that male smokers were up to 3.6 times more likely to lose their teeth than non-smokers, and female smokers were 2.5 times more likely to lose their teeth.

"Most teeth are lost as a result of either caries (tooth decay) or chronic periodontitis (gum disease)," explained study lead author Thomas Dietrich, from 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.”

Smoking can cover up gum bleeding, a key symptom of periodontitis, said researchers. So early decay may go unnoticed until it’s too late.

But there is good news. Smokers who quit have a decent chance of saving their chompers. "Quitting smoking can reduce the risk fairly quickly,” said Dietrich. “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.”

Quitting to save your teeth could also save your life, since tooth loss generally occurs before other, more deadly, conditions. "Gum disease and consequential tooth loss may be the first noticeable effect on a smoker's health," said Kolade Oluwagbemigun, from the German Institute of Human Nutrition. "Therefore, it might give people the motivation to quit before the potential onset of a life-threatening condition such as lung disease or lung cancer.”

The study involved 23,376 participants of three different age groups. Researchers found that younger people were more likely to lose their teeth from smoking than older people. Heavier smokers were at a much higher risk than people who smoke less often. Either way, it’s probably not a bad idea to quit if you want to preserve those pearly whites.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.

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