Cigarette Smokers More Likely to Need Root Canal Treatment.

A 30-year study finds that people who smoke cigarettes have an increased likelihood that they will need root canal treatment as compared to non-smokers.

"We found that cigarette smokers are 70 percent more likely to need root canal treatment than nonsmokers," said Elizabeth Krall Kaye, Ph.D., the study's lead author, an epidemiologist and professor in health policy and health services research at Boston University's School of Dental Medicine. "No matter what your age, you may need a root canal and as our research shows, smoking increases your risk."

The American Dental Association and American Medical Association reported the news recently at a joint news conference on the relationship between oral and general health.

Dr. Kaye's breaking news reported findings based on data collected in Veterans Affairs Normative Aging and Dental Longitudinal studies at the VA Boston Healthcare System. With the help of endodontic residents who re-examined dental X-rays taken over a 30-year period in a study of 18,893 teeth, Dr. Kaye identified 998 teeth that had received root canal treatment and related the data to each patient's smoking habits.

The research also showed the positive effects of quitting. "The total amount of time smoked and total time they remained smoke free was directly related to their risk," Dr. Kaye said. Since fewer patients in the study smoked cigars and pipes, researchers "cannot be absolutely positive" of increased risk of root canal therapy for these smokers. Estimates suggest half of U.S. adults have received root canal treatment by age 50, Dr. Kaye said.

Further research is necessary to explain why the risk increases for cigarette smokers.

Root canal treatment is necessary when the dental pulp, or soft tissue of the tooth containing nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue, becomes inflamed. A general dentist or endodontist, a root canal specialist, removes the infected tissue, cleanses the space and fills the tooth to prevent the bacteria from recolonizing.

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