For years we have known that smoking can contribute to not only oral cancer, but gum disease. New research last month out of the School of Dentistry at Indiana University now has significant evidence that smoking leads to an increase in tooth decay as well.
The culprit here is the bacteria that causes the decay itself, Streptococcus mutans (S. mutans). The bacteria eats the sugars in the food that we eat, and the waste product of the metabolism is acid. These acids then essentially pull minerals from the teeth, softening the tooth structure and eventually creating holes in susceptible areas. For the dentist, this is sort of “Dental Decay 101.” For researchers, it is the Holy Grail. Stop S. mutans, and potentially stop decay. We have seen everything to try to control it, from vaccine possibilities, to the use of alternate sugars like xylitol that inhibit S. mutans.
While those tactics are aimed to stop it, it turns out there are some factors that make S. mutans even stronger. The research done at Indiana University looked specifically on the effect of nicotine on the growth and metabolism of S. mutans. Using an electron microscope to analyze the bacteria, they found that S. mutans tended to get a metabolic boost, and to clump up to form into biofilm. The conclusion of all of this was that smoking can lead to a higher decay rate due to its ability to supercharge the bacteria that cause the decay.
There is so much evidence against smoking at this point, it is hardly surprising to yet another reason to avoid it.