The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 36 million people smoke. You probably already know that smoking can pose some serious health risks. When you think of smoking-related diseases, it’s likely emphysema or lung cancer that comes to mind. However, most smokers don’t consider what this habit is doing to their teeth and overall oral health.
Smoking Stains and Yellows Teeth
Cigarette smoking causes aesthetic damage to your teeth, leaving them stained and yellowed over time. Chemicals found in tobacco stick to tooth enamel. Over time, these chemicals stain the teeth. While you can delay staining a bit if you have regular teeth-whitening treatments, staining and yellowing will only get worse if you continue to smoke. Even if you quit smoking, staining to the teeth may not be entirely reversible.
Smoking, Bad Breath and Bacteria
The cigarette particles that linger after smoking a cigarette leave your mouth smelling like a cigarette. Smoking can also lead to the overgrowth of bacteria within your mouth, which causes bad breath. Even if you’re using mouthwash and brushing regularly, it’s tough to eliminate bad breath when it’s caused by bacteria and decay within the mouth, due to smoking. Only when you stop smoking and have the underlying oral problems addressed will you be able to eliminate bad breath.
Slower Healing Times After Oral Procedures
If you require dental procedures such as oral surgery, implants or tooth extraction, smoking can result in slower healing times after these procedures. The body heals more slowly in smokers. Studies show that patients who smoke are more likely to have complications after dental implant procedures, and implants are more likely to fail in smokers, too.
Smoking Increases the Risk of Gum Disease
Smoking significantly increases the risk of periodontal disease (gum disease) in smokers. What’s more, long-term gum disease that isn’t properly addressed can result in tooth loss. Many studies have shown smoking to be one of the biggest risk factors associated with the development of gum disease. Gum disease is basically a bacterial infection that destroys the bone and soft tissue anchoring teeth to the jawbones.
In the disease’s early stages, people often notice bleeding gums when flossing or brushing. However, since smoking reduces blood flow, smokers may not notice these symptoms, which means gum disease may not be found until it’s more severe. This is why it’s so important for smokers to schedule routine dental appointments to have their tooth and gum health evaluated.
Treating gum disease in smokers is more difficult, as well, since smoking slows healing. Smokers are far more likely to lose teeth within the five years after having gum disease treated. Further, even with nonsurgical gum treatment, smokers see less improvement than nonsmokers. Smoking can also cause poor results from oral surgery treatments for gum disease.
Smoking and Oral Cancer
According to WebMD, approximately 90 percent of patients with oral cancer — which includes cancer of the throat, mouth, tongue and lips — are smokers. The risk of developing oral cancer continues to increase the longer you smoke. In patients who continue to smoke after the apparent cure of cancer, 37 percent of them develop oral cancer again. The risk of oral cancer is even higher for individuals who combine smoking and heavy drinking.
Oral cancers usually start as a small red or white patch in the mouth, which may be accompanied by numbness in your jaw, ear pain, problems swallowing and difficulty chewing. If you experience these symptoms, it’s important to see a health care provider quickly. Treatment for oral cancer is more effective the earlier it is detected.
Smoking cigarettes can result in many negative oral health effects — including gum disease, oral cancer, tooth staining, mucosal lesions, impaired healing, gum recession and more. While working with your dentist closely can help you deal with the oral health issues related to smoking, the best way to prevent oral cancer and other oral health problems is to stop smoking. Quitting won’t just improve your oral health, it will improve your overall health. Talk to your dentist about the options available to help you quit today.
This article was written by Nebraska Oral and Facial Surgery