Smoking drastically alters the oral microbiome, the mix of roughly 600 bacterial species that live in people’s mouths, according to a study.
The researchers say their analysis is the most comprehensive to date to examine the effects of smoking on the make-up and action of bacterial species in the human mouth based on precise genetic testing.
Recent work in the field links imbalances in microbial populations in the gut to such immune disorders as Crohn’s disease, as well as to some gastrointestinal cancers. Experts estimate that more than three-quarters of oral cancers are tied to smoking, but it remains to be seen whether smoking-related microbial differences in the mouth contribute to disease risk.
“Our study is the first to suggest that smoking has a profound impact on the oral microbiome,” says study senior investigator and epidemiologist Jiyoung Ahn, PhD.
“Further experiments will be needed, however, to prove that these changes weaken the body’s defenses against cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco smoke, or trigger other diseases in the mouth, lungs, or gut,” says Ahn, an associate professor at NYU Langone and associate director of population sciences at its Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center.