How are smoking and oral health related? You know, smoking has numerous harmful effects on a person’s oral health. In fact, it is actually one of the leading causes of preventable oral diseases, including gum disease, tooth loss, and of course, oral cancer.
What makes smoking bad for oral health?
When a person smokes, the chemicals in cigarettes contribute to the sticky film called plaque that forms in our mouth. Plaque is made of bacteria, sugars, and other substances. When plaque is not removed through regular brushing and flossing, it leads to tooth decay and gum disease.
Smoking and oral health: Increased risk of gum disease
So, a key link between smoking and oral health is gum disease. Of course, gum disease is a really serious oral condition that usually results from this buildup of plaque and leads to tooth loss (read what plaque looks like). It usually begins as gingivitis, which is that bleeding in the gums (read other causes of bleeding gums). And if it is left untreated, then it progresses to what’s called periodontitis, and that’s when the gum and bone start to pull away from the teeth (read how to slow down bone loss). This destruction just reduces the support around the teeth. Ultimately, it does lead to tooth loss.
Now, studies have shown that smokers are more likely to develop gum disease (read some more facts on gum disease). In fact, smoking is one of the most significant risk factors for that. Smokers are 3 times more likely to develop gum disease than non-smokers. This is really due to the fact that smoking weakens the immune system. It allows infections to become more active as bacteria thrive.
Smoking and oral cancer
In addition to gum disease, smoking also increases the risk of oral cancer, as I mentioned earlier. According to the American Cancer Society, smokers are 6 times more likely to develop oral cancer than non-smokers. That can affect the lips, the tongue, the cheeks, the throat. It can be life-threatening and very serious if it is not detected early.
Up to 90% of all cases of oral cancer are linked to some kind of tobacco use – both smokeless and smoking. There are a lot of harmful chemicals, including carcinogens, in tobacco. They damage the DNA and lead to the development of cancer cells.
So, overall the effects of smoking on oral health are significant and can be devastating. Smokers are just at this wide risk of problems including tooth loss and oral cancer. So, if you are a smoker, quitting is the best thing to do, of course, for your overall health as well as your oral health.
Healing after dental procedures
Now, smoking also can affect the healing process after dental procedures. So, if you have oral surgery, say you have dental implants, you’re significantly more likely to experience infections, delayed healing, and implant failure if you are a smoker.
Smoking and oral health: Cosmetic effects of smoking
Then you think about the cosmetic effects on top of that – the appearance of the mouth and the teeth. There are some really specific cosmetic effects from smoking. First, you have stained teeth. It causes this yellow or brown staining from the chemicals such as tar and nicotine (read other causes of yellow teeth). These stains can be fairly difficult to remove with just regular brushing. You may need teeth whitening to take care of that (read how much teeth whitening costs).
Then of course, there is bad breath. Smoking causes bad breath known as halitosis. The tobacco chemicals that get deposited in the mouth, throat, and lungs can create these persistent odors.
Smoking can also affect the gums. Gum recession, gum disease, and that can expose the roots of the teeth. This leads to sensitivity and can just affect the overall appearance and health of the teeth.
And then there is premature aging. Smoking really causes aging to accelerate, leading to wrinkles in the skin and overall kind of a dull appearance. That’s due to the harmful chemicals that affect, again, the DNA of the cells.
Now, we mentioned delayed healing. If you have delayed healing, it is obviously a health problem, but it can also affect your appearance. You may have more swelling. It can just take longer to get through that.
With oral cancer, if you think about the cosmetic effect, it is fairly minor compared to the other effects. But it can lead to changes in appearance if you need to have surgery or treatment. It can lead to scars.
So, smoking has cosmetic effects on the appearance of the teeth and the mouth with all of these different things as well. Cosmetic treatments are available, but quitting smoking can help improve the appearance of the mouth and teeth as well as reduce the risk of oral health problems and other health complications.
Smoking and oral health: Second-hand smoking
The negative effects of smoking on oral health are not just limited to smokers themselves, if you think about it. Second-hand smoke can have an effect on other people, especially children. So, that’s another link between smoking and oral health. Something to think about in households with kids. Second-hand smoke has even been linked to an increased risk of tooth decay and gum disease in children as well as an increased risk of oral cancer in non-smoking adults.
Getting help with quitting smoking
Quitting can be difficult. It is important that smokers have resources to quit. Nicotine replacement therapies, medications, counseling and therapy – different things like that. If professionals can help someone stop, it just reduces the risk of so many conditions.
Obviously, there are a lot of negative effects and links between smoking and oral health. There are also a lot of negative effects on overall health. We want to be able to help people and encourage people to quit. If you are a smoker, it’s one of the best things you can do, but we also know it is very difficult.
At Express Dentist, we have a trusted network of dentists around the country that we can connect you with. A dentist can check your oral tissue, teeth and gums, for any smoking-related problems. But they can also be an encouragement to help you stop smoking and enjoy feeling better. So, reach out. We are happy to help. We can get you connected for better overall health. In the meantime, read some tips on optimizing your oral health.
About the author
Dr. Greg Grillo
Dr. Greg Grillo DDS studied at the University of Washington where he received a bachelors degree with Honors and later attended dental school on the same campus. Following school Dr. Greg served in the United States Navy as a dental officer. During this time he received advanced training in specialty areas of dentistry while also treating families of members of the military.
As well as sharing valuable information on dentistry and oral health, Dr. Greg remains a practicing dentist to this day. He works with families in the Okanogan Valley where he lives with his wife and three children.