Smoking and oral health
Most people now know that smoking is bad for their health. However, they should also realise the damage that smoking does to their mouth, gums and teeth.
How will smoking affect oral health ?
Smoking can lead to a number of dental problems, some of them very serious such as oral cancer.
Gum disease and periodontal disease
Periodontal disease is one of the most common causes of tooth loss in adults. It appears that smoking interferes with the normal function of gum tissue cells. It also reduces the blood flow in the gums and supporting tissues of the tooth and makes them more likely to become inflamed.
Consequently, smokers are more susceptible to infections, such as periodontal disease and, at the same time, their gum disease will get worse more quickly than in people who do not smoke.
Because smoking impairs blood flow to the gums and alveolar bone, the healing process following tooth extraction, periodontal treatment, or oral surgery is delayed. Moreover, smoking can also lead to an increased loss of bone within the jaw.
Teeth staining and discoloration
One of the effects of smoking is staining on the teeth due to the nicotine and tar in tobacco. It can make the teeth yellow in a very short time, and heavy smokers may find out that their teeth are almost brown after years of smoking.
Increased build up of plaque and tartar
Dental plaque is formed by colonizing bacteria that attach themselves to the tooth's smooth surface. Smoking may change the type of bacteria in dental plaque, increasing the number of bacteria that are more harmful.
Smokers also develop an increased quantity of plaque and tartar and thus are more susceptible to tooth decay and gum disease.
Smoking can cause its own form of bad breath and people who smoke may find they are more likely to have bad breath than non-smokers. Some fresh-breath products such as mouthwashes or chewing gum may help to disguise the problem in the short term, but that is all they will do.
Increased risk of developing oral cancer
Smoking is one of the main causes of mouth cancer. Besides that, smoking can also cause lung and throat cancer. All types of tobacco products can increase the risk of cancer : cigarettes, pipes, cigars and smokeless tobacco products, such as snuff and chewing tobacco.
Other dental health problems
- Lower success rate of dental implant procedures and an increased risk of developing peri-implantitis.
- Inflammation of the salivary gland openings on the roof of the mouth.
- Increased risk of leukoplakia, which are white or grey patches that develop on the tongue, the inside of the cheek, or on the floor of the mouth.
What can I do ?
The only effective approach is to quit smoking and tobacco products altogether. Regardless of how long you have used tobacco products, quitting now can greatly reduce serious risks to your health.
To stop using tobacco, your dentist or doctor may be able to help you calm nicotine cravings with medications, such as nicotine gum and patches. They may also be able to put you in touch with organizations and self- help groups who will have the latest information to help you stop smoking.
There are special toothpastes and mouthwashes for people who smoke. Your dentist may recommend that you use these toothpastes alternately with your usual toothpaste.
It is very important to visit your dentist regularly. People who smoke are more likely to have stained teeth, gum disease and other dental problems, and therefore may need appointments more often with the dentist or oral hygienist.
Your dentist will also examine your cheeks, tongue and throat for any abnormal signs that may need more investigation. He will also advise you on how often you should visit them.
Last review and update: November 2020