It is estimated that well over 1 billion people in the world smoke. Many of these smokers have their health directly affected by their choice of habit. Research has shown time and again that smoking is a significant hazard to a person’s general well being but it has been less publicized the effect smoking has on a person’s dental health. Logically, the mouth is the primary recipient of the tars, nicotine, and smoke from either smoking or chewing tobacco.
The tissues of the oral cavity would be the first to come into contact with these harmful and toxic materials. Even though the smoke is in the mouth for only a short period of time it is more than enough time for it to cause damage. The following are some of the effects smoking has on a person’s dental health:
1) Increased risk of developing oral cancer. Oral cancer affects almost 40,000 Americans each year. Oral Cancer kills one person per hour (totals about 8,000 deaths per year). Only a little more than 50% of those 40,000 diagnosed, will be alive in 5 years. This is a sobering statistic that has stayed steady for quite a few years. Around the globe, the problem is even greater. There are a reported 640,000 new cases of oral cancer each year.
2) Increased risk of periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is a leading cause of tooth loss. The most recent research studies have shown that tobacco use may be one of the most significant risk factors in the development and advancement of periodontal disease. A study published in journal of periodontology highlights that smokers are 4X more likely to suffer from advanced periodontal disease.
Also, the chemicals in tobacco can make oral surgery or periodontal treatments less predictable. It seems that smoking interferes with the normal function of gum tissue cells. This interference makes smokers more susceptible to infections, such as periodontal disease. Every Time you inhale, the blood vessels in the mouth constrict and impair blood flow to the gums. This decreased blood flow affects wound healing.
Smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to have the following issues:
- -Increased build up of plaque and tartar.
- -Deep pockets between your teeth and gums
- -Loss of the bone and tissue that support your teeth
If the bacteria is not removed during a professional cleaning, and it remains below your gum line, the bacteria can destroy your gum tissue and cause your gums to become inflamed, swollen, and pull away from your teeth. When this happens, periodontal pockets form and fill with disease-causing bacteria.
Periodontal disease is a progressive disease and if this situation is left untreated it will only get worse. The pockets between your teeth and gums can get larger allowing more bacteria to get in to destroy and breakdown gingival tissue and supporting bone. The gums may shrink away from the teeth making them look longer. Without any further treatment to slow or stop the progression your teeth may become loose, painful, and will probably fall out.
3) Discoloration of teeth. Nicotine and tar present in cigarette smoke, form deposits on tooth surface and cause discoloration of teeth. These discolorations can range from yellow to black. Most smokers are aware of this discoloration but it is almost impossible to remove via regular home care techniques.
4) Halitosis or smoker’s breath. Every smoker at some time or another has probably been told that their breath smells bad. Most smokers become used to the bad smell and hardly notice it but the bad breath is quite obvious to non smokers. This is not something that will go away without cessation of smoking.
5) Increased risk of tooth decay. The deposits from tar and nicotine caused by smoking add to the plaque build up in the mouth creating a environment for tooth-decay causing bacteria to flourish. Smoking will also affect dental work and will reduce success rates of procedures such as periodontal surgery and dental implants. Dental implants are quite costly and smoking can mean the difference between a successful outcome and an unsuccessful one.
6) Xerostomia or Dry Mouth. Cigarette smoking causes the condition known as dry mouth. This decrease in saliva is generally caused by the inflammation of the salivary gland ducts. This can in turn lead to a variety of problems including bad breath and cavities. Some lesser effects from smoking include change in taste sensation, sinusitis, and delayed wound healing.
Quitting Tobacco Use
If you wish to quit smoking, your dentist can help calm your nicotine cravings with certain medications. These can include nicotine gum, nicotine patches, or puffers (an artificial cigarette with nicotine only). Most of these are over the counter medications but others need a prescription. For example, Zyban and Chantix are prescription drugs used to help patients quit smoking, and must be
monitored by your physician. Smoking cessation classes and support groups are often used together with drug therapy. Ask your dentist for information they may have on similar smoking cessation programs. Herbal remedies, along with hypnosis and acupuncture, are other treatments that may help patients quit smoking.
The bottom line is that the habit of smoking poses a very significant threat to your overall health and that includes your dental health. Education is the key to making current smokers aware of the pitfalls of smoking as well as the rest of the population who may take up the habit now or in the future. As always regular dental visits are recommended.