How smoking impact our oral health

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A dentist with an uncanny ability to diagnose underlying health issues through oral examinations, including heart problems and diabetes, often left patients astonished.

Surprisingly, he was often correct. Empirical studies have established a connection between periodontitis (gum disease) and various cardiovascular diseases, although the exact mechanisms remain unclear.

Giacomo Antonello, a biotechnologist conducting research for his Ph.D. at the Institute of Biomedicine, collaborated with colleagues from the Eurac Research Institute for Biomedicine to explore a possible link: in smokers, changes in the oral bacterial community may contribute to an elevated risk of such diseases.

Their study, part of the CHRIS study in Val Venosta, aimed to answer two key questions: What happens to the oral microbiome when we smoke, and how does quitting smoking affect it?

To investigate, the research team, in collaboration with epidemiologist Betsy Foxman from the University of Michigan, analyzed saliva samples from over 1600 individuals—an extensive study considering the relatively new field of salivary microbiome research.

Giacomo’s doctoral advisor, bioinformatician Christian Fuchsberger, emphasized the scarcity of large-scale studies in this area.

Microbiome research has gained prominence in recent decades. While the intestinal microbiome has received significant attention, the oral microbiome, although less dense in microbial diversity, offers accessibility for sampling and potential diagnostic value.

In the CHRIS Study, participants provided saliva samples categorized into groups: current smokers, former smokers, and those who had never smoked.

Those who had quit smoking provided information about their cessation timeline, while current smokers disclosed their daily cigarette consumption. The research team employed 16S rRNA gene sequence analysis to profile the microbial community in each mouth.

Results from Giacomo’s research using CHRIS Study data revealed distinctive patterns. Non-smokers displayed a notably different oral microbiome compared to current or recent smokers. Cigarette use predominantly affected aerobic bacteria—those requiring oxygen.

The abundance of these bacteria decreased with increasing cigarette consumption and gradually recovered upon smoking cessation. After five years of quitting smoking, former smokers’ oral microbiomes resembled those of never-smokers in terms of aerobic bacteria.

The enduring effects of smoking on the oral microbiome raised questions about potential links to diseases known to be associated with smoking, such as periodontitis and cardiovascular disease.

Some oral bacteria, primarily aerobic ones, convert dietary nitrate into nitrite, a precursor of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide plays a critical role in regulating blood pressure and vascular health.

While the study did not directly measure nitric oxide levels in saliva, it revealed a correlation: the more participants smoked, the fewer nitrate-reducing bacteria were present in their mouths.

This raises the hypothesis that reduced nitric oxide production due to changes in the oral microbiome may contribute to the higher risks of periodontal and cardiovascular diseases observed in smokers.

Giacomo emphasizes that further studies are needed to validate this hypothesis. His ongoing research explores additional factors influencing our oral microbiome, including genetics and household composition. The latter appears to play a significant role.

In conclusion, Giacomo Antonello’s study sheds light on how smoking impacts the oral microbiome, potentially influencing the risks of periodontal and cardiovascular diseases.

While further research is needed, this work underscores the importance of oral health and its broader implications for overall well-being.

If you care about dental health, please read studies about Scientists find an important cause of tooth decay and findings of Diabetes drug metformin could treat gum disease, boost healthy aging.

If you care about smoking, please read studies about why some non-smokers get lung disease and some heavy smokers do not, and smoking cessation drug may help treat Parkinson’s disease.

The research findings can be found in Scientific Reports.

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