Smoking Boosts Risk for Root Canal

Reasons for the connection aren't clear, researchers say

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THURSDAY, Feb. 23, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Cigarette smokers have something new to add to their list of reasons to quit: Research shows they are 70 percent more likely to need a root canal than nonsmokers.

"The findings substantiate what most of us already know: smoking is detrimental to your health," study author Elizabeth Krall Kaye, an epidemiologist at the Boston VA Hospital and a professor in the department of health policy and health services at Boston University's School of Dental Medicine, said in a prepared statement.

Cigar and pipe smokers were only at a slightly increased risk for root canal, according to the study, which tracked the dental and physical health of a group of more than 800 men for 30 years.

The men's dental health was checked every three years, along with information about their smoking habits.

"But because root canal is so common -- it's estimated that half of U.S. adults have experienced one by age 50 -- I think people can relate to it more than lung cancer and other smoking-induced conditions. No matter what your age, you may need a root canal and as our research shows, smoking increases your risk," Kaye said.

She discussed the findings Thursday at a media briefing sponsored by the American Dental Association and American Medical Association. The study will appear in the April issue of the Journal of Dental Research.

"The total amount of time smoked and the total time they remained smoke-free was directly related to their risk [of root canal]," Kaye said. "For example, the teeth of a man who smoked for less than four years had a likelihood of treatment that was 20 percent greater than that of nonsmokers, but the risk doubled in men who smoked anywhere between five and 12 years, and was 120 percent greater for men who smoked for more than 12 years. The good news is that after being smoke-free for nine years, the risk returned to the level of men who never smoked."

"While our research doesn't explain why the risk is increased among cigarette smokers, we suspect that the body's reduced infection-fighting capabilities as a result of smoking may contribute," Kaye said.

"Other studies have also suggested that smokers experience more dental cavities, which is a major reason for root canal treatment. Hopefully, future research will be able to identify the mechanisms that explain why cigarette smokers have more root canal treatments."

More information

The American Dental Association has more about root canal.

SOURCE: American Medical Association, news release, Feb. 23, 2006

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