Harsh Impacts of Smoking on Oral Microbiota

Many people know how dangerous smoking is. They know that it accounts for 20 percent of all deaths in the United States and is the number one cause of preventable disease. However, when they think about smoking and their oral health, often discoloration and bad breath are the only worries people have. The reality is, the consequences of smoking are much more dire. Despite oral cancer killing almost 50,000 Americans every year, smoking could also aid in the development of cavities and periodontal disease by disrupting oral microbiota according to researchers at the New York University Langone Medical Center’s Laura and Issac Perlmutter Cancer Center.

The Study

To understand how smoking alters mouth bacteria, they utilized exacting genetic tests to study the composition and activity of mouth bacteria in smokers, non-smokers, and former smokers. They collected mouthwash samples from 1,204 adults already registered in a national cancer risk study. The samples were genetically tested, examined, and compared with statistical data to relate the impact smoking has on the volunteers’ oral microbiota. The participants included adults at least 50 years in age. 112 were smokers, 521 were non smokers, and 571 had been smokers who quit the habit within the last ten years.

The Findings

The researchers found, unsurprisingly, that the oral microbiome of the smokers was significantly different from that of the non-smokers and even the former smokers. What was surprising was how the different bacteria present were skewed across these three types of people. There are 600 species of bacteria in the mouth that work together to keep your mouth healthy. From the mouthwash samples researchers found that 150 types of bacteria were in higher concentrations in smokers’ mouths, and that 70 other types of bacteria were significantly lower in smokers than in their non-smoking, and former smoker, counterparts.

Interestingly, proteobacteria, the bacteria thought to aid in breaking down toxic chemicals that are introduced by smoking, made up only 4.6 percent of overall bacteria in smokers’ mouths. In comparison, non-smokers mouths contain up to 11.7 percent proteobacteria overall. To make matters even more threatening, they found 10 percent more strains of Streptococcus in mouths of smokers in comparison to their non-smoking volunteers. Streptococcus strains are well known for promoting tooth decay and the beginnings of gum disease.

Not only are smokers dealing with more harmful bacteria, they are also severely lacking in the beneficial bacteria that helps to break down the harsh, toxic chemicals they inhale multiple times a day. This means that smokers are not only at an extremely increased chance of developing oral cancer (75 percent of oral cancers are thought to be caused by smoking), but also they are at an extremely high risk for developing dental caries and gum disease as well. These researchers proved smoking has much harsher effects than bad breath and stained teeth.

Balancing Oral Microbiota

While the findings of this research are on the bleak side, there was a silver lining. By analyzing the data from the 521 former smokers, they were able to discover whether or not oral microbiota can recover after smoking cessation. The good news is: it does! While the results do not give a clear cut answer as to when exactly a former smoker’s oral microbiota recovers and resembles the microbiota of a non-smoker, they do show that within the timeframe of 10 years microbiota do rebalance.

What You Can Do

If you are a smoker, your whole body health, not just the health of your oral microbiota is at stake. Quitting smoking is one of the most important things you will do your entire life. It is the fastest way to return your whole body back to wellness. According to Tobacco Free Florida, only 20 minutes after quitting smoking your blood pressure decreases, after 8 hours blood oxygen levels return to normal, in three months your lung function improves up to 30 percent, and the list goes on and on as your body repairs itself. Quitting smoking is not easy, if it were nobody would be putting their body at risk they way they do today. Thankfully, Florida is host to a robust smoking cessation program, Tobacco Free Florida, that can get you on the path to a smoke-free life today.

If you have quit smoking and would like to reward yourself for this lifetime achievement with a teeth whitening and professional cleaning, call your favorite Jacksonville dentist today. Dr. Shields loves to help her patients maintain a strong and healthy smile, and to congratulate them on the amazing work they’ve done to improve their health by quitting smoking.


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