People who smoke are often the ones who make fewer visits to the dentists than their nonsmoking counterparts. This happens in spite of the fact that smoking puts them more at risk from periodontal diseases than others.
The finding holds true regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, location and insurance coverage.
The study, reported in the latest American Journal of Health Behavior, analyzed data gathered during a government health care survey in 2000. The researchers had found that 33 percent of current smokers reported having at least one dental visit that year compared to 45 percent of nonsmokers.
Dental professionals could play a key role in delivering these messages, says the report. Many practices have already adopted the "Ask, Advise, Refer" approach recommended by the American Dental Hygienists' Association to help their patients quit smoking.
Tobacco awareness campaigns are beginning to incorporate more recognition that oral health is affected by the use of tobacco. Lung cancer has traditionally been the focus of attention, but increasingly they are acknowledging that every system in the body is affected.
Further research might improve such educational efforts by asking smokers why they don't visit the dentist more often. The research may determine whether this is a matter of personal choice, a lack of awareness, a financial issue, or whether there are obstacles as part of the dental visit itself.