Smoking And Oral Health

Many people are aware of the damage smoking does to their general health, but the oral health implications of smoking are perhaps less well-known. Here are some of the effects of smoking on oral health:

Increased risk of gum disease: smoking increases the risk of gum disease because it increases the production of plaque and reduces blood flow to the gums, which slows the natural healing process down and prevents the gums from regenerating and healing when they have been infected. Plaque is a sticky substance, which collects on the teeth and along the gum line; it is made when bacteria and food debris combine with saliva and it is also the main cause of decay. If you have gum disease and you are a smoker, the symptoms tend to progress more rapidly; advanced gum disease, known as periodontal disease, causes irreversible damage to the gums and the bone tissue underneath. Eventually, the teeth will become loose in their sockets and fall out. Symptoms of gum disease include inflamed, red, tender and painful gums; the sooner gum disease is treated, the better, as the disease progresses and early forms can be treated relatively easily with good oral hygiene at home and powerful cleaning treatments. 

Staining and discolouration: some of the chemicals in cigarettes, particularly tar and nicotine, contain staining agents, which discolour the teeth, causing them to lose their natural whiteness. It is common for smokers to have yellow or brown teeth. Discolouration can occur quickly and staining lasts for many years; even smokers who have given up complain about having brown teeth for many years afterwards. The only way around staining is to have the teeth professionally whitened once you have quit smoking; however, the results will not usually be as good as they are for a non-smoker who has whiter teeth to begin with. 

Bad breath (halitosis): smoking is a common cause of bad breath, which is often described as ‘smoker’s breath’. Once you have smoked, it is common for the breath to smell for some time and eating mints or chewing gum merely masks the smell; cleaning the teeth helps to reduce odours, but the only real way to prevent bad breath caused by smoking is to give up. If you smoke and you are worried about bad breath, it is a good idea to see a dental hygienist on a regular basis. 

Increased risk of oral cancer: smoking is one of the main risk factors for oral cancer, a form of cancer, which affects the soft tissue in the mouth and throat. Although the number of people affected by mouth cancer has risen significantly in the last decade, many people are still unaware of the causes and symptoms and as a result, many cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage when there is a higher risk that cancer has progressed and spread. If you smoke, you are up to 3 times more likely to develop mouth cancer than a non-smoker; if you smoke and drink heavily, this risk increases to 30 times. Symptoms of mouth cancer include:

  • red or white patches in the mouth
  • abnormal lumps and inflammation
  • slow-healing mouth sores and ulcers
  • a persistent sort throat
  • problems with swallowing

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