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It’s been clear for years that smokers have a higher risk of gum disease but now there’s research showing secondhand smoke can also increase the risk.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, using data from another study that included 2,379 nonsmokers ages 53-74, have concluded that exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke for a few hours each day can double a person’s risk of gum disease. People exposed to secondhand smoke less than 25 hours each week had a 29 percent increased chance and for those exposed more than 26 hours, the odds were twice as high.

The study appears in the December issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

In 2004, the U.S. Surgeon General concluded that the scientific evidence was sufficient to infer a casual relationship between tobacco and gum disease. In 2006, the Surgeon General stated there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

The American Dental Association recommends regular checkups and periodontal exams. In addition to smoking, risk factors include tobacco chewing; systemic diseases such as diabetes; various medications such as steroids, cancer therapy drugs and oral contraceptives; bridges that no longer fit properly; crooked teeth; fillings that have become defective; and pregnancy, according to the ADA.

The ADA says warning signs include gums that bleed easily; red, swollen or tender gums; gums that have pulled away from the teeth; persistent bad breath or bad taste; permanent teeth that are loose or separating; changes in the way your teeth fit together when you bite; or any change in the fit of partial dentures.

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