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Smoking nearly doubles likelihood of root canal treatment

Need another reason to stop smoking? Quitting might help you avoid root canal treatment.

A new study shows that cigarette smokers are nearly twice as likely to need root canal treatment as nonsmokers. And the risk of a smoker needing root canal treatment increased with more years of smoking and decreased with length of abstinence.

The study, cited in the April 2006 issue of the Journal of Dental Research, included 811 men (ages 21 to 48) and endodontic analysis of 18,000 teeth for over three decades. Although the study subjects were male only, similar conclusions could likely be reached for female smokers, says the American Dental Association.

The participants visited the study site every three years and received dental evaluations for cavities, restorations and gum (periodontal) disease, among other conditions. Clinicians also took dental radiographs and documented each participant's smoking history (e.g., frequency and type of tobacco).

While the study doesn't explain why the risk for root canals is increased among cigarette smokers, analysts suspect that smoking weakens the body's ability to fight infections. Other studies have also suggested that smokers experience more dental cavities, which is a major contributor to root canal treatment.

Delta Dental currently is conducting a study examining how dentists may provide tobacco cessation counseling to their patients who smoke. The project, a collaboration between Delta Dental and the University of California, San Francisco School of Dentistry, involves selected dentists in California, Pennsylvania and West Virginia who received different levels of training in tobacco cessation counseling. In 2006, these dentists' patients are being surveyed to identify the benefits of the training and to compare the results with those of patients who visited dentists who received either less intensive training or no training at all.