The Effects of Smoking on Your Oral Health

 In Family Dentistry

We all know that smoking is bad for your health and affects your smile.  But, do you know just how much it actually affects your oral health? The answers can be quite surprising to some, as they go well beyond just superficial tooth discoloration.

It’s estimated that about 15 percent of the American population smokes.  That’s 36 million smokers! While this number has been slowly declining over the years, there are still a large number of people who are exposing themselves to the risks that come from smoking, and they are numerous and even serious.  You see, tobacco use damages your teeth in many ways, not to mention your overall health. In fact, cigarette use limits your mouth’s ability to fight off infections leaving you defenseless against the bacteria that are produced by the act of smoking.  When your mouth can’t fight back, bacteria and plaque are left to build resulting in all kinds of oral health issues.

What are the effects of smoking?

Discoloration – Yellow or stained teeth are commonly associated with smokers and one of the most obvious signs of damage.  This discoloration happens because the chemicals that are found in tobacco cling to the enamel of your teeth causing them to stain.  While teeth whitening treatments can slow this process, with continued tobacco use, you won’t be able to stop or reverse the staining entirely.

Bad Breath – Unfortunately, we’ve all smelled “smoker’s breath,” and it really does smell like an ashtray.  That’s because cigarette particles remain in the mouth long after you’re finished, which causes your breath to take on the same characteristics as a cigarette.  But, bad breath can remain long after you’ve stopped smoking, and no amount of brushing or gargling will rid your mouth of the smell. Why? Because through extensive use, the smell will start to come from gum disease, decay, and oral sores.  The only way to combat this is to stop smoking entirely and work with a dentist to address and correct the underlying issues caused by tobacco use.

Gum Disease – Smokers are twice as likely to develop gum disease than nonsmokers, and the risk increases with every single cigarette that touches your lips.  In fact, the effects are so bad that gum disease treatments often don’t work as well on smokers. This is because smoking decreases your mouth’s ability to fight off bacteria that can build up on your teeth and gums.  If left untreated, your gums can start to pull away from your teeth and cause the underlying bone structure to weaken and break down. The most severe form of this is called periodontitis, where this erosion of the tissue causes teeth to break down, fall out or need to be extracted.  This sort of tooth loss occurs because smokers’ mouths never get a chance to heal due to the constant tobacco use.

Slow Healing – Tooth loss and extraction isn’t the only thing smokers have to worry about when it comes to their oral health.  Smoking also slows your body’s ability to recover from dental treatments and procedures. This means that the more time your mouth spends in a vulnerable state, the more prone you become to developing further complications.  Sure, your dentist can help mitigate this to the best of their abilities, but treatment plans are only as effective as the patient’s choices.

Cancer – In the most severe cases, smokers can develop oral cancer.  Each year, roughly 50,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with oral cancer, with an estimated 80 percent of those being smokers.  While there are certain signs that smokers in particular should watch out for that could indicate this problem, the best way to tell and stay ahead of it is to see your dentist.  Early detection is key. Common signs of oral cancer include white or red patches in the mouth, difficulty chewing or swallowing, numbness in the jaw and even ear pain.

While your dentist can put together a treatment plan to help mitigate the issues associated with smoking, the only real way to solve these oral health issues that occur as a result of smoking, is to stop smoking altogether.  Dental issues are just one of the consequences to smoking.  But, the affects are far reaching and can be extremely damaging.  So, if you want to live a healthier life for many years to come, it’s time to kick this habit.      

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