BIRMINGHAM, England, Sept. 14 (UPI) -- People who smoke cigarettes have an increased risk of losing their teeth, researchers in a new study found, because it can mask the effects of periodontitis and make gums look more healthy than they are.
While it can be harder to spot, researchers said gum disease and tooth loss are among the first serious effects smoking can have on health, with heavy smokers being at greater risk for tooth loss than lighter smokers. Men were found to be more than 3 times as likely to lose their teeth from smoking, and women twice as likely, when compared with nonsmokers in the study.
"It's really unfortunate that smoking can hide the effects of gum disease as people often don't see the problem until it is quite far down the line," said Thomas Dietrich, a professor at the University of Birmingham, in a press release. "The good news is that quitting smoking can reduce the risk fairly quickly. Eventually, an ex-smoker would have the same risk for tooth loss as someone who had never smoked, although this can take more than ten years."
The researchers analyzed data from 23,376 people recruited for the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition between 1994 and 1998. They found that heavy smoking -- 15 or more cigarettes per day -- was associated with increased risk of tooth loss for people under age 50 by 3.6 times for men and 2.5 times for women.
Smokers who quit reversed the trend, returning their risk for tooth loss to that of somebody who never smoked within 10 to 20 years of quitting.
"Gum disease and consequential tooth loss may be the first noticeable effect on a smoker's health," said Kolade Oluwagbemigun, a researcher at the German Institute of Human Nutrition. "Therefore, it might give people the motivation to quit before the potential onset of a life-threatening condition such as lung disease or lung cancer."
The study is published in the Journal of Dental Research.