Clearing the Air on Smoking and Oral Health

Clearing the Air on Smoking and Oral Health

We’re likely not the first ones to tell you that smoking and oral health don’t exactly pair well. And we’re not just talking about those unsightly stains. Cigarettes can affect your oral health in a number of ways. Below, we’ve tackled the common questions around this topic:

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Can smoking cause gum disease?

Smoking can be a contributing factor to periodontal (gum) disease. If you smoke you’re more likely to produce bacterial plaque that can cause infections in your gums. This is aggravated by the fact that smoking leads to an oxygen deficit in the bloodstream, making it harder for your gums to heal, speeding the onset of gum disease. The CDC reports that smokers were twice as likely to suffer from gum disease than non-smokers.

Can smoking lead to tooth loss?

When the gum disease mentioned above gets serious, it can absolutely lead to major damage. If left untreated, the bone in your jaw can be affected,  causing small gaps to appear between your gums and teeth, and even making your teeth loose and likely to fall out.

How is smoking related to cancer?

Smoking cigarettes

The link between smoking and lung and throat cancer is now widely known, but fewer people know that smoking can lead to mouth cancer too. Chemicals in tobacco, whether it’s smoked or chewed, cause genetic changes in the cells of the mouth cavity, increasing the risk of oral cancer. Two-thirds of mouth cancer cases are linked to smoking tobacco.

Are there other oral health problems caused by smoking?

Unfortunately, the list is fairly long when it comes to dental health issues caused by smoking:

  • Inflammation of salivary gland openings

  • Halitosis (bad breath)

  • Increased risk of leukoplakia, a condition in which thick, white patches form on the tongue and mouth lining

  • Increased buildup of plaque and tartar

  • Increased loss of bone in the jaw

  • Lower success rate for dental implant procedures

  • Longer healing process after tooth extraction, periodontal treatment or surgery

Is it safer to use smokeless tobacco products?

Sorry, e-cigs don’t earn a pass, as they’re often loaded with cancer-causing chemicals. And while other smokeless tobacco products like snuff and chewing tobacco may be gentler on the lungs, they also contain equally harmful chemicals that have been proven to increase the risk of oral and throat cancer. Switching to smokeless products could, in fact, be counterproductive, as they contain higher levels of nicotine than cigarettes and so are harder to give up. To add to the damage, sugars are often added to smokeless tobacco to enhance the flavor, increasing the risk of tooth decay among users. These products may be sold as a better alternative, but clearly they only compound oral healthy problems.

Is there anything I can do to improve my oral health if I’m a smoker?

While quitting the habit is your best option, there are some dental products that can help reduce the negative effects of smoking on teeth. Ask your dentist about special kinds of toothpaste for smokers that can reduce staining - just make sure to use them with caution as they tend to be more abrasive. Mouthwash can help to cover up bad breath, but bear in mind that this is a short-term solution rather than a real fix.

A good oral care routine is a must. Make sure to brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes using proper technique and don’t forget to brush your tongue and floss.

Although you can work to reduce the harmful effects of smoking, the only real, long-term solution is to quit. The alternative to quitting is to put extra focus on keeping your mouth and teeth as clean as possible.

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