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Recent Ohio State study gums up bad health news for smokers

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A new study shows that smoking causes the body to turn against helpful bacteria found in the mouth, leaving smokers more vulnerable to gum disease.

Purnima Kumar, assistant professor of periodontology at Ohio State, explained that smokers are much more likely to contract gum disease.

“At least half of all gum disease can be attributed to smoking,” Kumar said.

This led Kumar and her staff to ask the question, “Why are smokers at such a high risk of gum disease?”

Kumar and her staff are in the process of multiple studies to determine the answer to this question. When they compared the mouths of smokers to those of non-smokers, they found that smokers carry an entirely different bacterial community to those who don’t smoke.

In comparing the results of the study, which included 15 smokers and 15 nonsmokers, Kumar found that a smoker generally took anywhere between four and five days to grow a solid community of gum bacteria. Compare that to non-smokers, who had a non-changing community of bacteria that stayed the same, Kumar said.

“A mouth containing a solid bacterial community protects you from gum disease,” Kumar said.

Kumar went on to explain the harmful bacteria formed in the mouths of smokers are called pathogens. These pathogens are harmful to the bones that attach teeth to the jaw, which results in gum and mouth disease, such as periodontitis.

Periodontitis is a disease that results in the inflammation and infection of the bones and ligaments that connect teeth to the jaw.

Though non-smokers might also fall victim to such gum diseases as periodontitis, Kumar said treatments are available to help solve the problem. While non-smokers can be treated once and their situation is under control, there are a significant number of smokers who don’t respond well to treatments of gum disease.

“The best treatment for gum disease doesn’t always work as well for smokers as it does for non-smokers,” Kumar said.

Carmen Dalton, a fifth-year in linguistics and Japanese, said she isn’t surprised the study found another negative effect that smoking causes the human body.

“There’s so many harmful things in cigarettes,” Dalton said. “It doesn’t surprise me that it kills bacteria that your body needs.”

Matt Murray, a post-graduate who works at a convenience store, said he sells cigarettes and chewing tobacco to people throughout the day.

“I deal with customers who have teeth missing, who purchase cigarettes and chew,” Murray said. “It’s obvious (smoking) has a negative effect on health, specifically where the intake is.”

Kumar said she and her staff will next study why smokers are more susceptible to these harmful pathogens as opposed to healthy commensal bacteria. During this study, they will introduce bacteria to smoke and examine what the smoke does to that bacteria.

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