Consumer News: Study shows tobacco promotes bacteria growth in mouth

Smoking tobacco is widely known as a killer. From cancer to emphysema, tobacco can result in many causes of death. But the effect smoking has on bacteria was largely unknown, until now.

Published in the 2015 issue of the journal Tobacco Induced Diseases, the article from University of Louisville School of Dentistry researcher David A. Scott reveals how tobacco use leads to bacteria colonization. Dr. Scott and his coauthors describe the effect tobacco smoke can have on biofilms, dense communities of bacteria that are called dental plaque when formed on teeth. Dental plaque can lead to gingivitis as well as more severe oral diseases like periodontitis.

Using tobacco not only enhances the growth of these bacterial spaces, but also makes them stronger. Dental plaque can develop antibiotic resistance and potentially expand when the area is exposed to tobacco. With a severe enough case, the dental plaque can act as a wall between the immune system and the bacteria inside the plaque.

Dr. Scott is still researching ways to combat biofilm-induced diseases. He closes the article by admitting that this research is only scratching the surface.

For more information on the effects of tobacco use, visit the "Smoking and Tobacco" page at

© 2017 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Tobacco's greatest threat to your health may be its association with oral cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that:

  • About 90 percent of people with mouth cancer and some types of throat cancer have used tobacco. The risk of developing these cancers increases as people smoke or chew more often or for a longer time.

  • Smokers are six times more likely than nonsmokers to develop these cancers.

  • About 37 percent of patients who continue to smoke after cancer treatment will develop second cancers of the mouth, throat or larynx. While only 6 percent of people who quit smoking will develop these secondary cancers.

  • Smokeless tobacco has been linked to cancers of the cheek, gums and inner surface of the lips. Smokeless tobacco increases the risk of these cancers by nearly 50 times.7