Long-Time Smoking Linked to Increased Rate of Root Canals

 Chalk up another negative effect of smoking. This time, a study to be published in the Journal of Dental Research online edition for March 24, 2006, has found that long-time smokers are more likely to get root canals than nonsmokers.

Dr.Elizabeth Krall Kaye, professor of health policy and health services research at Boston University’s Goldman School of Dental Medicine, reported at a media teleconference organized by the American Medical and Dental Associations that: “”Our study has shown that men have almost twice the risk of having root canal treatments if they smoke cigarettes, compared to men who never smoke.”

The researchers examined data from a long-term study of 811 men who were followed for up to 28 years. Of that group, 230 had never smoked, 440 had once smoked, and some were pipe or cigar smokers. The study began in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

At the start of the study, the average age of the men was about 48 years old. Most of the men involved in the study were middle-class whites.

Every three years, the men got their teeth checked and X-rayed at the study site, and reported their smoking habits. The team found that the men who smoked the most had the highest number of root canals, while nonsmokers and those that had quit the longest had the least.

The  998 teeth that had root canals done on them belonged to only 385 men.

Smokers who had smoked for more than 12 years were most likely to have a root canal. Current smokers who had smoked for fewer years had a lower risk of having a root canal, but they were still more likely than nonsmokers to have one.

Unlike cigarettes, pipes and cigars weren’t linked to high odds of getting root canals.

According to Dr. Kaye: “There is good news from this study for people who do smoke, and that is that if you quit, your risk of root canal treatment will go down.” Moreover, men who quit cigarettes for nine or more years were nearly as likely as lifelong nonsmokers to get root canals.

The findings prompted Dr. Kaye to encourrage all dentists to make smoking cessation a part of their overall treatment program.

Unfortunately, the X-rays analysis does not indicate why cigarette smokers were more likely than nonsmokers to get root canals. The team did, however, have theories as to what the mechanism involved might be, including: (1) smoking makes it harder to fend off infections; (2) smoking increases inflammation; and (3) smoking damages the circulation system and lowers oxygen levels.

Dr. Kaye believes the findings probably apply to women as well, although “it might be harder to detect, because at least historically, women haven’t smoked as long or as much per day as men have, but I think the risk would still be there.”

(Sources: WebMD Medical News 2/23/06; Kaye, E. Journal of Dental Research, March 24, 2006; online edition)

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