While many people are now aware that smoking can adversely affect their health, some do not know that smoking can also adversely affect their oral health? Many do not recognize that smoking can result in tooth staining, gum disease, tooth loss, and in more severe cases, mouth cancer?
The statistics on the dental health of smokers is not positive! About 16 percent of people who smoke have poor dental health, four times the rate of people who have never smoked. Smokers are less likely to have gone to the dentist in the past five years than non-smokers. Also, more than a third of smokers have at least three dental health issues. So, in this article, we’ll talk about how smoking affects your teeth and oral health…Here are some of the ways…
- Bad breath: Also called halitosis or smoker’s breath, the most immediate way that smoking causes bad breath is by leaving smoke particles in the throat and lungs. Also, the chemicals in tobacco smoke can remain in the mouth, leading to a host of secondary causes of bad breath. Tobacco causes chronic bad breath by drying out the mouth and palate, leaving a dry, chemical-filled environment, where anerobic oral bacteria run amok.
- Periodontal (Gum) disease: Studies have found that tobacco use is one of the biggest risk factors in the development of periodontal disease. The latter is a gum infection, which destroys soft tissue and bone that anchor your teeth to your jawbone. In early stages, your gums may bleed when you brush or floss. Also, smokers have more calculus (tartar) than non-smokers, which may result in a decreased flow of saliva. Calculus is the hardened form of plaque. As your gum infection worsens, your gums begin to break down. They pull away from your teeth, forming pockets. Later, more supporting structures are destroyed, and the pockets deepen.
- Tooth discoloration: This is one of the effects of smoking on your teeth, and is due to the nicotine and tar in the tobacco. Nicotine by itself is a colorless substance, but when mixed with oxygen, it turns yellow and can make your teeth yellow in a very short time. Heavy smokers complain that their teeth are almost brown after years of smoking.
- Inflammation of the salivary gland openings on the roof of the mouth: While smoking immediately stimulates saliva flow, it also predisposes to inflammation and infection of the salivary glands in the mouth. It blocks off and damages the salivary glands, resulting in mouth dryness. It also slightly reduces the pH of the mouth, thereby making the mouth more acidic and predisposing to tooth decay and dental erosion.
- Increased build-up of plaque and tartar on the teeth: Tartar, sometimes called calculus, is plaque that has hardened on your teeth. Smoking results in an increased build-up of tartar. Tartar can also form at or underneath the gumline and can irritate gum tissues. Tartar gives plaque more surface area on which to grow and a much stickier surface to adhere to, resulting in more serious conditions, such as cavities and gum disease.
- Increased loss of bone within the jaw: Studies have shown a direct link between tobacco use and reduced bone density. This may result in an increased loss of bone within the jaw, resulting in loose teeth at risk of displacement.
- Increased risk of leukoplakia, or white patches within the mouth: Smoking is one of the causes of Leukoplakia. The condition is usually painless, but is closely linked to an increased risk of oral cancer. Leukoplakia most commonly occurs on the tongue, but can also occur on the floor of the mouth, on the soft palate, on the inside of the cheek, on the lower lips, and on the gums.
- Tooth loss: According to the Academy of General Dentistry, men who smoke lose 2.9 teeth for every 10 years of smoking. For women, the number is 1.5 teeth per decade of smoking. Smokers are about twice as likely to lose their teeth as non-smokers. One theory is that tooth loss in smokers occurs because tobacco restricts the flow of blood to the gum tissues, which limits the nutrients necessary for the bone and periodontal support for the teeth. Another theory is that a chain of events causes tooth loss. This starts with plaque and tartar build-up on teeth, which can cause gingivitis, which leads to periodontal disease, and eventually, tooth loss.
- Delayed healing process following tooth extraction, periodontal treatment, dental implants, or oral surgery: There are several reasons why smoking results in a delayed healing process following dental implants, tooth extraction, or oral surgery. One such reason is that nicotine and its by-products affect peripheral blood vessels, especially the superficial ones in the mouth and skin. This results in less blood flow to the areas that these vessels supply. This affects both healing and immune mechanisms. Mouth dryness also promotes increased growth of disease-causing bacteria, which increases the incidence and severity of periodontal disease. All of this delays healing.
- Increased risk of developing oral cancer: This risk of oral cancer is about 5 to 10 times greater among smokers compared to people who never smoked. Some of the chemicals contained in tobacco smoke cause, initiate, or promote cancer. These chemicals cause genetic changes in cells of the mouth cavity, which can lead to the development of oral cancer.
So, now you know more about how smoking can adversely affect your oral health. If you are a smoker, consider a smoking cessation plan, or try reducing it in phases. Also, consult your dentist, who can examine you for the early signs of periodontal disease and oral cancer.