It's no secret that smoking is bad for one's dental health -- tobacco use can lead to an increase in cavities, gum disease, and tooth discoloration, among other problems. But it turns out that non-smokers (whose number has been steadily growing in the United States) can be at risk for normally smoking-related dental problems through one simple substance: serum cotinine. If you're wondering what this substance is, what it is in, and what exactly it can do to you, then here's what you need to know.
What exactly is serum cotinine?
This oddly named substance is an alkaloid that was originally developed to be an antidepressant -- but it was never sold under that purpose. Nowadays, serum cotinine is better known as a metabolite of nicotine -- in fact, the word 'cotinine' is simple an anagram of 'nicotine'.
What is it used for?
While cotinine can, in theory, do much the same thing that nicotine can (though at much lower potency levels), its modern purpose is to be used as a biomarker, showing if and how long a person has been exposed to tobacco smoke.
So a non-smoker can have serum cotinine in their system?
Yes. If you've been exposed to tobacco smoke, even if it's only a bit every other day or so, you might have low levels of serum cotinine in your blood plasma or in your urine. These levels won't be anywhere near the levels one would find in even a mild smoker, but it will still show up if you do a test looking for cotinine at a hospital.
But if cotinine is less pungent than nicotine, can these very low levels really hurt the body that much?
In terms of common overall health problems that plague smokers (like lung cancer), the answer is probably no. But as far as dental problems go? A new study done in March of 2015, tobacco smoke -- even just inhaled environmentally, rather than recreationally -- is one of the factors behind the prevalence of periodontitis in non-smokers (47%) in America. The odds of people having moderate to severe periodontitis was 62% higher if they also had serum cotinine (even low levels) in their blood.
So what you're saying is that the presence of serum cotinine caused by environmentally inhaled tobacco smoke causes periodontitis?
As with all questions in science, it's very hard to establish a strong causation, even if there's a pattern of correlation between the two variables. However, the researchers went so far as to declare that cotinine and periodontitis are "significantly associated" -- meaning that if you breeze through a cloud of tobacco smoke every morning on your walk to work, you may want to go to the dentist a little more frequently -- and listen when your dentist tells you to floss.
For more information, contact a company like Hurst Family Dental.
Caring for an elderly parent tends to be tough enough without the added stress of dealing with dental implants or dentures. But, the prospect is not the end of the world—there are many things you can do to ensure that your parent's dental health is not compromised without having to spend a lot of personal time doing the care yourself. Between working with the right dentist, hiring a service provider for part time work, and giving your parent the tools he or she needs to care for his or her own dental health at home, you'll find that dental health for your loved one isn't so tough or time consuming after all. Hopefully you are able to get the support and information you need right here.