You probably already know that smoking is bad for your health, but, did you realize that smoking can have significant negative effects on your oral health as well? Some of the dental problems that smoking contributes to include:
- Increased risk for oral cancer: Approximately 37,000 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed in the United States every year. And, a study conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, showed that eight out of ten oral cancer patients were smokers. Oral cancer is most likely to be discovered by your dentist during an oral cancer screening, a standard part of most preventative exams with your dentist. Early detection is one of the most important factors in successful treatment of this type of cancer. Yet another reason to keep up on the routine visits to your dental office, especially if you are a smoker!
- Greater risk for gum disease: Smoking has been linked with higher instances of gingivitis and periodontal disease. Gum disease left untreated can result in serious infections of the mouth and leads to soft tissue and bone damage, eventually resulting in tooth loss.
- Tooth Discoloration: Smoking or chewing tobacco can result in dark, stubborn staining to the teeth.
- Difficult healing after dental treatment or oral surgeries: Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor, which means it narrows the blood vessels and decreases the amount of blood being delivered to tissues. Good blood flow is an essential element to keeping gum tissues healthy. A diminished blood flow is especially detrimental when healing is happening in the mouth, such as after having a tooth pulled.
- Damaged Gum Tissue and Tooth Decay: Besides the increased risk of periodontal disease, smoking may cause gums to recede. This exposes the more vulnerable root portion of the tooth and can lead to dental caries.
- Sensitive Teeth: Roots are less protected from hot and cold sensations than the enamel covered crown of your tooth. The recession of gum tissue caused by smoking can lead to tooth sensitivity that makes eating and drinking uncomfortable.
- Leukoplakia: Leukoplakia is a condition in which thick white patches develop on the tongue, cheeks and gums. It is not usually painful, but in severe cases, can develop into oral cancer. Leukoplakia is most often caused by smoking.
- Lower success rates of some dental procedures: Because of the some of the issues listed above, such as bone loss and slower healing times, smoking decreases the success of treatments such as dental implants.
- Dry Mouth: Smoking may cause inflammation of the salivary glands, which reduces their saliva output and can lead to dry mouth. Saliva is the body’s natural tool to wash away debris after eating or drinking and return the mouth’s pH back to a normal state. Some side effects of dry mouth include an increased risk for tooth decay and halitosis.
- Bad breath: An unpleasant smell from smoke particles lingering in the mouth and lungs, often called smoker’s breath, is one of the most obvious dental health issues caused by smoking. Smoking also contributes to bad breath by drying out the palate and increasing the risk of dental caries and gum disease- all of which lead to persistent halitosis.
So, what about e-cigs?
E-cigs, or electronic-cigarettes, were first introduced about ten years ago and are steadily gaining popularity. They are designed to have all of the characteristics of a standard cigarette, without the tobacco. Instead of smoke, users inhale nicotine vapor. The elimination of the tobacco decreases cancer causing agents and will not result in the bad breath or tooth discoloration that smoking a typical cigarette can cause. However, the transition to e-cigs does not completely eliminate the negative impact on your oral health. They still have a significant amount of nicotine in them, which contributes to decreased blood flow to the gums (healthy gingiva are essential to keeping other oral tissues healthy) and diminished healing from infections, dental procedures or oral surgeries. Bottom line, they don’t solve every dental problem caused by smoking.