The list of health risks linked to smoking continues to grow.
A small study reports that, aside from lung cancer, emphysema and heart disease, cigarette smokers also have weakened immune systems affecting their dental health.
Scientists from Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine found that smoking reduces the ability of pulp inside teeth to fight illness and disease.
“That might explain why smokers have poorer endodontic outcomes and delayed healing than non-smokers,” Anita Aminoshariae, director of predoctoral endodontics, said in a news release from the Cleveland university.
“Imagine TNF-α and hBD-2 are among the soldiers in a last line of defense fortifying a castle. Smoking kills these soldiers before they even have a chance at mounting a solid defense,” she said.
The study, published Sept. 26 in the Journal of Endodontics, included 32 smokers and 37 nonsmokers with endodontic pulpitis, or dental-tissue inflammation. The researchers found that smokers were more likely to develop gum disease and nearly twice as likely to need a root canal.
“We began with a look at the dental pulp of smokers compared with nonsmokers,” Aminoshariae said. “We hypothesized that the natural defenses would be reduced in smokers; we didn’t expect them to have them completely depleted.”
However, smoking’s harmful effects on the immune system are reversible, the researchers said. They noted that the immune systems of two of the study’s participants grew stronger once they quit smoking.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advice on how to quit smoking.