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In the mouth, smoking zaps healthy bacteria, welcomes pathogens

Despite the daily disturbance of brushing and flossing, the mouth of a healthy person contains a stable ecosystem of healthy bacteria. New research shows that the mouth of a smoker is a much more chaotic, diverse ecosystem—and is much more susceptible to invasion by harmful bacteria.

As a group, smokers suffer from higher rates of oral diseases -- especially gum disease -- than do nonsmokers, which is a challenge for dentists, according to PurnimaKumar, assistant professor of periodontology at Ohio State University. She and her colleagues are involved in a multi-study investigation of the role the body's microbial communities play in preventing oral disease.

"The smoker's mouth kicks out the good bacteria, and the pathogens are called in," said Kumar. "So they're allowed to proliferate much more quickly than they would in a non-smoking environment."

The results suggest that dentists may have to offer more aggressive treatment for smokers and would have good reason to suggest quitting smoking, Kumar said.

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