Smoking and Bacteria: How Cigarettes Can Give Germs Super Strength

Smoking and Bacteria: How Cigarettes Can Give Germs Super Strength

  • Smoking and Bacteria: How Cigarettes Can Give Germs Super Strength

The list of reasons to avoid smoking just keeps getting longer and longer, and a 2016 study conducted by the University of Louisville has just added one more. Smoking has long been known to have an adverse effect on oral health, but scientists are still uncovering the many ways tobacco impacts our bodies.

The latest finding connects tobacco use with the formation of biofilms. A “biofilm” is when a group of microorganisms collect on a surface and then begin to stick together, forming a coating that can cover biological or non-living surfaces alike. When biofilms form in our mouths, they’re referred to by a term you’re probably more familiar with — plaque. Doctors are now also answering the question of “Can vaping and e-cigarettes can be harmful to your oral health?” with a resounding yes.

Biofilms cause problems in our bodies because they create a barrier that the immune system can’t easily breach. Our immune response typically can eradicate pathogens with ease, but within the protective biofilm, bacteria like Staphylococcus are free to thrive and multiply. Genetic material can easily transfer between the different microbes within a biofilm, so the bacteria inside can become resistant to antibiotics — a big, and growing, problem in medicine. In addition to teeth, biofilms can also form on our heart valves and in our respiratory tracts, leading to persistent infections that can be difficult to get rid of and cause significant health problems.

Why is smoking So Harmful for Teeth and Oral Health

Smoke inhaled from a cigarette isn’t pure tobacco, of course. The smoke you breathe in contains a complex array of chemical components that are irritating and damaging to our bodies. The stress of being exposed to cigarette smoke weakens our immune systems and makes us more susceptible to different bacteria, which can then work together to form biofilms like plaque.

The journal Tobacco Induced Diseases published a study exploring the relationship between tobacco and biofilms in detail. The weakening of the immune system and our bodies’ natural defense systems is only part of the problem.

Another side of the issue is that certain chemicals from cigarettes actually appear to change the physiology and behavior of bacteria, making them more prone to forming biofilms. By affecting the way certain genes and proteins interact, tobacco smoke makes the bacteria more likely to adhere together, expand their colonies faster, and create biofilms that stick to teeth and organs.

Now that scientists are learning more about this connection between smoke and biofilms, they can gain a better understanding of the different ways that cigarettes affect human health. The increase of plaque helps to explain the detrimental impact smoking has on our teeth. And the formation of biofilms on heart valves and respiratory tracts makes it clear why smoking can lead to heart and lung infections and diseases. Our new knowledge about this particular effect of smoking fills in a lot of blanks about how exactly cigarettes can harm our bodies in these specific ways.

Scientists have only begun to scratch the surface of the complicated mechanisms at work in the mouths and bodies of smokers. But with every new study that is completed and new paper that is published, it becomes more and more obvious that smoking cigarettes is incredibly dangerous. Six million deaths a year are directly attributed to health effects from smoking, according to the World Health Organization.

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