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Smokers More Likely to Need Root Canals

Among the many health risks associated with tobacco use, smokers are more likely to need root canals than non-smokers.

It's never fun to hear the words "root canal" coming out of your dentist's mouth. But if you've recently been diagnosed as needing a root canal treatment, it may be comforting to know that you're not alone. Like you, it's estimated that about half of the adult population in the U.S. will need a root canal treatment by the age of 50.

The good news is if you don't smoke you can avoid increasing your chances of needing a root canal. If you do smoke, you may be surprised to learn about the recent dental health findings at Boston University's Goldman School of Dental Medicine. Studies there revealed that your gender, how much you smoke and how long you've been smoking can significantly multiply your need for root canal treatment.

Are Men More Vulnerable?

Poets, musicians and humorists have long opined the differences between men and women. How the sexes are dissimilar will always be hotly debated, but one thing is certain: Men and women are distinctly different when it comes to dental health.

A survey revealed that men of all ages are more likely than women to develop cavities, periodontal disease and oral cancer; smoking puts men at twice the risk over women. Smoking also doubles the need for root canals in men.

"Our study has shown that men have almost twice the risk of having root canal treatments if they smoke cigarettes, compared to men who never smoke," said Elizabeth Krall Kaye, author of the Boston University study and professor in the department of health policy and health services.

So does that mean women are in the clear? Not really, says Kaye. Historically, women haven't smoked as long or as much per day as men but Kaye believes that the risk associated with smoking and root canals still applies.

Why smoking makes men and women more susceptible to dental problems that require root canal treatment is still somewhat of a mystery. Kaye and her associates think the answers lie in what smoking does to your overall health: It affects your ability to ward off infection, increases inflammation and damages your circulation system.

Why Time Matters

If you recently picked up the habit of smoking, you may be at lower risk for root canals -- but don't let that fool you into thinking you're safe. The likelihood that a "newbie" smoker will need a root canal is still 20 percent greater than a non-smoker. Smoking for 4-12 years doubles the risk. But the most vulnerable are long-time smokers or anyone who has smoked for 12 or more years; the chances of needing a root canal then jumps to a whopping 120 percent more than non-smokers!

Fortunately, you can greatly reduce your need for root canals by quitting cigarette smoking and staying smoke-free. In fact, if you stay smoke-free for at least nine years, your chances of needing a root canal treatment can drop as low as a non-smoker's.

Rely on Your Dentist

It's important to remember that your dentist is the one person who can help you maintain good oral health even if you smoke. So don't shy away from your dentist if you're a smoker; dentists want to help you, not judge you. With regular dental visits and dental cleanings, your dentist can monitor your dental health and help alleviate some of the consequences of smoking.

Even better, if you need help quitting, your dentist is a great person to turn to for advice. He or she may be able to provide smoking cessation products such as nicotine patches or can help refer you to effective smoking cessation programs or clinics. If you don't have a dentist, let us help find you one.