We all know that smoking is bad for us. It’s drilled into our heads in advertisements and commercials constantly, and with good reason. According to the Centers for Disease Control, smoking kills 480,000 adults in the United States alone every year, including those who die due to exposure to secondhand smoke.

Most people associate smoking with conditions tied to the lungs, such as lung cancer or emphysema, but cigarettes can wreak havoc on mouths as well. Cigarette smoke increases your risk for gum disease, a condition which in itself is all too common and has been linked to breast cancer. Smokers are also more likely to develop tooth decay than non-smokers.

Researchers at the New York University Langone Medical Center and its Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center have been examining how smoking affects the bacteria living inside of our mouths with some interesting results.

male's hand holding smoldering cigarette

Good and Bad Bacteria

It is important to realize that not all bacteria are bad, in fact, there are many probiotic foods and drinks that are created to replace good bacteria which are key to good health. In your mouth, there are specific strains of bacteria that are important for digestion and even protect your teeth and gums from decay.

Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with the bad bacteria, particularly Streptococcus mutans which feeds on leftover starches and sugars in your mouth and secretes an acid that damages tooth enamel, leading to decay.

A healthy mouth has to have a balance of bacteria. Think of it like an animal kingdom. For the study, the researchers examined mouthwash samples from 1,204 adults aged 50 or over who participated in a larger ongoing study by the National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society.

Of the 1,204 examined, 112 were current smokers, 521 had no history of smoking, and 571 were former smokers with 17% having quit in the past 10 years. The researchers found that 150 species of bacteria were higher and 70 species were significantly lower in the mouths of smokers.

Proteobacteria, which are believed to play an important role in breaking down toxins found in cigarette smoke, make up only 4.6% of all bacteria in the mouths of smokers versus 11.7% in non-smokers’ mouths. Additionally, there were 10% more species of Streptococcus in smokers’ mouths.

Stop Smoking!

So what is the best way to maintain the microbiome of your mouth? Avoiding smoking is a great start. You should also make a habit of brushing twice daily and flossing once daily followed up with a mouthwash rinse. Visiting a dentist should also be a key aspect of your dental routine.

If you live in the Philadelphia area and are looking for a great dentist that you can trust, consider visiting Dr. Siegel at The Dental Excellence of Blue Bell. Give us a call at (610) 272-0828 to schedule an appointment today.