As a general dentist in Aloha, Dr. Bronitsky works with her patients to help them better understand the risks their oral health faces from dental decay and disease. As most patients know, smoking greatly increases their risk for a variety of serious health problems, including gum disease, tooth loss, and oral cancers. Now, a new study now suggests that just being around a smoker may be just as bad for an individual’s oral health.
Exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke may increase an individual’s risk for developing mouth, lip, and throat cancer by over 50 percent, according to a recent review published in the journal Tobacco Control.
Based on the findings from the research team, individuals who breathe in secondhand smoke for over 10 to 15 years may be twice as likely to develop oral cancer when compared to those who don’t receive any smoke exposure.
“Our systematic review and meta-analysis support a consistent and statistically significant association between secondhand smoke exposure and the risk of oral cancer,” wrote the research team.
Smoking a Significant Risk Factor
For decades, research has found links between smoking and diseases that negatively impact oral health. Studies have found that in addition to increasing an individual’s risk of cancer, smoking also stimulates the production of plaque in the mouth and worsens gum disease. Evidence has found that exposure to secondhand smoke may cause inflammation in the oral cavity and impair salivary gland function, and that it may also impact teeth and the oral microbiome.
Both smoking tobacco and using smokeless tobacco are known to increase an individual’s risk for oral cancer. Oral cancers account for nearly 450,000 new cancer cases annually and over 228,000 deaths worldwide.
Despite comprehensive research on the impact of smoking on personal health, less research has been conducted on secondhand smoke. In 2009, the International Agency for Research on Cancer publicly stated that enough verified evidence existed to conclude that secondhand tobacco smoke is carcinogenic to people and that exposure can lead to lung and throat cancer.
To more fully understand the connection between oral cancer risk and secondhand smoke exposure, the researchers conducted a systematic review of previously published studies. The team examined five studies that involved over 6,900 participants. Of those people, over 3,400 were exposed to secondhand smoke while the remaining participants received no exposure. The studies were conducted on four different continents.
Individuals who were exposed to smoke produced by burning cigarettes but who were not smokers themselves had their risk of oral cancer increase by 50 percent.
Those exposed to more than 10 to 15 years of secondhand smoke were more likely to develop oral cancer when compared to those who receive no smoke exposure.
The study did have a few limitations, including a small overall number of examined studies. However, the overall number of cases and the steady control over the meta-analysis make researchers confident in their study results.
The review found a consistent association between secondhand smoke exposure and oral cancer risk and the duration of exposure.
“The identification of the harmful effects of secondhand smoke exposure provides guidance to public health professionals, researchers, and policymakers as they develop and deliver effective prevention programs,” wrote the research team.
Protecting Your Oral Health
Obviously, stopping smoking offers patients an immediate and lasting solution for improving not only their oral health, but their overall health as well.
In addition to quitting smoking, patients also need to schedule regular appointments to see a general dentist in Aloha, especially if a former smoker.
Regular exams will provide Dr. Bronitsky the opportunity to assess the current state of a patient’s oral health. Importantly for smokers, regular appointments also mean frequent oral cancer screenings. As with most any form of cancer, the earlier a patient has their cancer diagnosed, the more likely they become to have a successful outcome against the disease.
If you have any questions about the risks presented to your oral and overall health from smoking, make sure to ask your general dentist in Aloha – Dr. Bronitsky!