According to a new study, smoking causes the body to turn against its own helpful bacteria, leaving smokers more vulnerable to disease.
Despite the daily disturbance of brushing and flossing, the mouth of a healthy person contains a stable ecosystem of healthy bacteria. New research shows that the mouth of a smoker is a much more chaotic, diverse ecosystem-and is much more susceptible to invasion by harmful bacteria.
As a group, smokers suffer from higher rates of oral diseases - especially gum disease - than do nonsmokers, which is a challenge for dentists, according to Purnima Kumar, assistant professor of periodontology at Ohio State University. She and her colleagues are involved in a multi-study investigation of the role the body’s microbial communities play in preventing oral disease.
“The smoker’s mouth kicks out the good bacteria, and the pathogens are called in,” said Kumar. “So they’re allowed to proliferate much more quickly than they would in a non-smoking environment.”
The results suggest that dentists may have to offer more aggressive treatment for smokers and would have good reason to suggest quitting smoking, Kumar said.
“A few hours after you’re born, bacteria start forming communities called biofilms in your mouth,” said Kumar. “Your body learns to live with them, because for most people, healthy biofilms keep the bad bacteria away.”
She likens a healthy biofilm to a lush, green lawn of grass. “When you change the dynamics of what goes into the lawn, like too much water or too little fertilizer,” she said, “you get some of the grass dying, and weeds moving in.” For smokers, the “weeds” are problem bacteria known to cause disease.
Did you know that your oral health can offer clues about your overall health? Or that problems in your mouth can affect the rest of your body? Understand the intimate connection between oral health and overall health and what you can do to protect yourself.
What’s the connection between oral health and overall health?
Your mouth is teeming with bacteria — most of them harmless. Normally the body’s natural defenses and good oral health care, such as daily brushing and flossing, can keep these bacteria under control. However, harmful bacteria can sometimes grow out of control and cause oral infections, such as Tooth decay and gum disease. In addition, dental procedures, medications, or treatments that reduce saliva flow, disrupt the normal balance of bacteria in your mouth or breach the mouth’s normal protective barriers may make it easier for bacteria to enter your bloodstream.
In a new study, Kumar’s team looked at how these bacterial ecosystems regrow after being wiped away. For 15 healthy nonsmokers and 15 healthy smokers, the researchers took samples of oral biofilms one, two, four and seven days after professional cleaning.
The researchers were looking for two things when they swabbed subjects’ gums. First, they wanted to see which bacteria were present by analyzing DNA signatures found in dental plaque. They also monitored whether the subjects’ bodies were treating the bacteria as a threat. If so, the swab would show higher levels of cytokines, compounds the body produces to fight infection.
The results of the study were published in the journal Infection and Immunity.