It is hard to imagine that anyone could be unaware of the fact that smoking is bad for you. Most everyone knows that smoking can cause severe respiratory diseases like emphysema and COPD, as well as lung cancer. Did you know that smoking is also really bad for your dental health?
Smoking can cause disastrous effects on your mouth. This blog explains how.
Smoking cigarettes adds the chemical nicotine into the bloodstream. Nicotine has an important effect on blood vessels, especially the really small ones. It causes the blood vessels to constrict or shrink and narrow. This is why people who smoke have a much higher risk for high blood pressure and heart disease. As the vessels get smaller, containing the same volume of blood, the pressure inside those vessels goes up.
As the tiniest blood vessels in the extremities get smaller, it reduces the blood flow to those areas. The gums around your teeth are an “extremity”. When the gums do not get enough blood flow, they are less able to fight the bacteria that cause gum disease.
Healing from any type of injury, surgery, or disease process requires good blood flow. Blood brings cells to the area that rebuild lost tissue and fight infection. Smoking affects the size of blood vessels in the mouth, and therefore, it affects the amount of blood flow to the site.
Smokers are notoriously poor healers because of this. Once smokers have gum disease or undergo some kind of oral surgery, it is much more difficult for them to heal. This leads to chronic periodontal disease that does not respond well to treatment. It also leads to a higher risk for complications after surgeries like tooth extractions and dental implant placements. Smokers are much more likely to suffer from dry socket (a painful post-operative complication of extractions) and dental implant failure (when the implant does not integrate into the jawbone).
Smoking cigarettes also leads to dry mouth. The nicotine has an effect on the salivary glands, causing them to produce less saliva, and the constant inhalation/exhalation motion of smoking creates its own drying effect. The consequences of dry mouth can be disastrous.
Saliva is the body’s natural defense against the bad bacteria that cause cavities. Without an adequate amount of saliva, these bacteria are able to proliferate more rapidly. When the mouth is dry, plaque buildup becomes more sticky. This sticky plaque is difficult to remove and takes extra effort with your home care (oral hygiene).
Stickier, more-difficult-to-remove plaque increases the risk for cavities. A dry mouth causes a particularly high risk for crescent-shaped cavities along the gum lines. This is due to the collection of sticky plaque in the small crevice lining the gum tissues.
Another negative effect of smoking on your teeth is heavy tobacco staining, causing the teeth to take on a brownish or dark yellow appearance. Over time, these stains become embedded within the tooth’s mineral structure and cannot simply be polished off. You must undergo professional teeth whitening treatments to counteract this consequence of smoking.
There is no question that smoking gives you bad breath. We even call it “smokers’ breath”. Of course, smoking produces an odor that smells like cigarettes, but it does not stop there. Because of the drying effect of smoking on the oral cavity, it also increases the other causes of bad breath: an overgrowth of oral bacteria and excess production of volatile sulfur compounds by those bacteria.
Many of the bacteria that occur naturally in the mouth produce chemicals called volatile sulfur compounds as a part of their metabolism of food particles in the mouth (think kitchen trash can . . .). These compounds (commonly referred to as VSCs) can cause a rotten egg, fishy, or fecal smell in the mouth. They are gaseous molecules, which is why we can “breathe them out” and why others can smell them.
Smoking is one of the biggest risk factors for oral cancer. The toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke are an irritant to the soft tissues lining the inside of the mouth. Over time, and with heavy smoking, those irritants make changes in the cells lining the surface (called epithelial cells). These changes can creep deeper and deeper underneath the surface and cause cancer.
For people who smoke and also drink alcohol, the risk more than doubles. Oral cancer from smoking typically occurs on the floor of the mouth or sides and underside of the tongue.
All smokers should have an oral cancer screening by a dental professional at least once every year. Smokers should also perform a self screening every month. You may catch a warning sign for oral cancer before your dentist does. Some great instructions for oral cancer self screening are on this website.
This does not lower someone’s risk for oral cancer, but it does enable us to catch it early. Early detection of oral cancer improves the survival rate. Oral cancer does kill, but usually the cases that lead to death are those that are not caught until they have spread significantly.
Nicotine is an addictive substance, and quitting is not easy. There are many programs available to help you quit. It is important to address both the physiological addiction and the psychological addiction association with smoking cigarettes.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to tobacco cessation, and it may take multiple attempts before you are successful. At Premier Dental of Ohio, our dental professionals are here to support you in your efforts to quit smoking.
Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to schedule a consultation with our dental experts. We can assess your current situation, educate you about your specific risk factors, and help you fight dental disease.