WE ALL WANT to know the single most impactful thing a person can do to improve their teeth. If you smoke, the answer is plain and simple: quit smoking. Smoking doesn’t only harm your lungs; it actually has a damaging affect on EVERY single system in your body, including oral health. In this post, we look at some of the negative effects of smoking on your smile and your overall health, and hope it'll empower you to free yourself from this bad habit.
Smoking Increases Your Risk of Oral Cancer
Lung cancer tends to get all the attention when it comes to consequences of smoking, but four out of every five people diagnosed with oral cancer smoke or chew tobacco. Early symptoms of oral cancer include persistent mouth sores or pain, unusual white patches, swelling, numbness, difficulty chewing or swallowing, and a sensation of having something stuck in the throat.
The weirdest effect smoking can have on oral health is that it can cause white patches to develop on the roof of the mouth. These patches are smoker’s keratosis (or stomatitis nicotina). This condition is still something of a medical mystery, but the current theory is that the white patches are caused by inflamed mucous glands. While they typically aren’t painful, they can be pre-cancerous.
Smoking Makes Gum Disease More Likely
Smoking weakens the immune system, making smokers susceptible to tooth decay and gum disease. As many as half of adults older than 30 have some form of gum disease, and smoking doubles the risk of developing it and makes it harder to treat. Gum disease, if left untreated, can lead to serious damage to the gingiva (gum tissue), bone loss in the jaw, and tooth loss. In severe cases, it can even be life-threatening if the bacteria in the mouth gets into the bloodstream through inflamed gums.
What About Vaping?
Vaping or smoking e-cigarettes is often portrayed as a much healthier option to traditional smoking, but it is far from safe or without risks. The vapor still contains nicotine, a known carcinogen and ultra-fine toxic chemicals and heavy metals. Recent studies have found concerning links between vape use to an increased risk of cancer and stroke. The affect of nicotine itself reduces blood flow, affecting teeth and gums, potentially causing gum recession and death of gum tissue. It can also reduce saliva, leading to dry mouth (which causes all kinds of problems from bad breath to tooth decay), and it can trigger teeth grinding, which damages teeth.
Secondhand Smoke Isn’t Safe Either
Sometimes smokers will claim that they’re not hurting anyone else with their habit, and they’re willing to accept the risks to their own health. Unfortunately, this is not accurate. Studies have suggested a link between cavities (in baby teeth and adult teeth) and regular exposure to secondhand smoke. The broader health risks are especially serious for small children and infants, including infections, asthma attacks, and even SIDS.
The Benefits of Quitting
Did you know quitting smoking can save your taste buds and sense of smell? The harmful chemicals in smoke can dampen your sense of taste and smell by flattening your taste buds and dull the nerves that enable your sense of smell. These nerves and taste buds may not return so the sooner you quit, the more you'll be able to preserve your senses!
Obviously it’s better not to start smoking in the first place, but it’s never too late to quit! Even when people with a long history of smoking quit for a short time, it can significantly improve their health outlook. So why not try to kick the habit? There's so much to be gained!
Take Advantage of the Resources Around You
Quitting an addictive habit isn’t easy, but smokers who need help quitting are not alone. Some of the best resources are the support of family, friends, and counselors. There’s also a lot of great information available online, and your dentist is another great resource. If you are a smoker, make sure to schedule regular dental exams (sometimes more than two a year) to keep your mouth healthy! Scheduling is easy - you can call, text, email or book your next appointment online.