It is widely acknowledged that smoking tobacco can lead to severe health problems such as cancer, lung disease and heart disease, but did you know that smoking also has a tremendous impact on your oral health? Every puff of smoke that gets into your body starts by passing your lips, tongue, teeth and gums, and in the process it can do a lot of damage. Hygienists and dentists can tell a tobacco user from their oral health. Some of the conditions that are associated with smokers include: bad breath, discoloured teeth, inflammation of the salivary glands, increased levels of dental plaque, cavities, gum and bone disease, shifting teeth, mouth sores, smoker’s lip (like a burn), and oral cancers. Because smoking reduces blood flow to the gums, it leaves smokers at risk for bacterial infection; so much so that the risk of developing destructive gum disease is almost three times higher for those who smoke than for those who do not. Shockingly, smokers can expect to lose two teeth every 10 years from smoking. If you start smoking at age 18 and smoke one pack daily you can expect to lose between four and five teeth by the age of 35. As well, tobacco users are very significantly more likely to develop oral cancer than non-smokers. The death rate from oral cancers (including cancers of the tongue, mouth and pharynx) actually now exceeds the death rate from cervical cancer. The chemicals in tobacco also slow the healing process of any type of oral treatment or surgery, and cause smokers to have dramatically less success with periodontal treatments and dental implants.
But it’s not all bad news. Regardless of how long you have used tobacco products, quitting now can greatly reduce serious risks to your health. Studies of former smokers have shown that 11 years after quitting, their likelihood of having gum disease is not significantly different from people who have never smoked.
Even simply reducing the amount you smoke appears to help. One study found that smokers who reduced their smoking habit to less than half a pack a day had only three times the risk of developing gum disease compared with non-smokers, which was significantly lower than the six times higher risk seen in those who smoked more than a pack and a half per day. Another study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association found that the mouth lesion leukoplakia (this being white patches of irritation which appear on the mucous membranes of the oral cavity) completely resolved within six weeks of quitting in 97.5 per cent of patients. Statistics like this are very encouraging, and hopefully provide added motivation for those hoping to kick the habit.
It is difficult to quit smoking however, no one disputes that. Your dentist or doctor may be able to help you calm nicotine cravings with medications, nicotine gum, or patches. It is has been said that the fresh clean feeling a person feels in the mouth after brushing and flossing may help to restrain the urge of smoking. Ironically, these simple tips also help to prevent periodontal diseases.
If you do smoke, regular dental checkups in order to verify the state of the gums and to make sure no oral cancer is developing are imperative. The dentists at North Burnaby Dental Group are always happy to see you and ensure that you are in good oral health — smoker or not!