Decay-causing bacteria thrive on nicotine, study says

INTELIHEALTH (August 1, 2012) — Nicotine boosts the growth of bacteria that cause cavities, a laboratory study suggests.

The study used seven strains of Streptococcus mutans. These bacteria are associated with cavities. The bacteria were exposed to different amounts of nicotine.

Nicotine increased the growth of S. mutans. This means that smokers may grow more of these bacteria in their mouths than nonsmokers do. The bacteria live and multiply in a substance known as plaque. Bacteria treated with nicotine created thicker plaque than bacteria that were not treated.

Nicotine also increased the metabolism of the bacteria. This is an important finding for cavity formation. S. mutans produces acid after it eats carbohydrates. The acid can eat away at tooth enamel and form cavities. A faster metabolism allows bacteria to make more acid.

Smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to have cavities. The reasons for that are not entirely clear. A report using national data, published in February 2012, noted that smokers had poorer oral health than nonsmokers. But the report also found that smokers were more likely to delay routine dental visits. That could lead to more oral health problems, including cavities. Problems found early, during a check-up, are easier to fix.

The nicotine study was published in the August issue of the European Journal of Oral Sciences.


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