Ask any doctor or health professional about the dangers of smoking and you’ll hear a lengthy list of potential long-term consequences the habit can have on the state of your health. While an increased risk of stroke and developing lung cancer or heart disease will probably top most lists, smoking also has a profound impact on your oral health.
Among the many oral health issues smoking helps contribute to include bad breath, tooth discoloration, inflammation of saliva glands, increased tartar and plaque build up, oral sores, and increased risk of developing gum disease and oral cancer. Worst yet, while most long-term health consequence resulting from smoking can take years to manifest, the damage done to your teeth and gums can progress quickly, resulting in a variety of oral problems in just a few months after starting to smoke.
To help you understand the oral health risks associated with smoking, here’s what you need to know about how the habit harms your teeth and gums.
Smoking and Gum Disease
Gum disease ranks as the leading cause of permanent tooth loss in adults, and also contributes to tooth decay, bad breath, and a number of other oral health problems. Smoking and the use of other tobacco products increases your risk of developing gum disease by affecting the soft tissue and bone along the gum line that attaches to your teeth. Specifically, smoking disrupts how gum tissue cells function, which makes smokers more susceptible to infections like gum disease. The affect smoking has on gum tissue also impairs the flow of blood to the gums, which can reduce your body’s effectiveness healing wounds and repairing damage to the mouth.
Smokeless Tobacco and Your Mouth
While some may think that using smokeless tobacco products offers a safer alternative to cigars and cigarettes, chewing tobacco can actually present a bigger risk to your oral health than smoking.
Research has found that smokeless products such as chewing tobacco and snuff contain over 28 different chemicals that increase your risk of developing throat, esophageal, and oral cancer. Since most smokeless tobacco products come into direct contact with your gum tissue, the use of these types of products often results in the development of gum recession, which causes your gums to pull away from the base of your teeth, creating pockets where bacteria begin to pool. This increases your risk of tooth decay, and the exposure of your teeth’s roots may cause sensitivity when consuming hot or cold foods and drinks.
Further more, many tobacco companies add sugar to smokeless products to improve flavor. The excess sugar these products contain can also increase your risk of suffering from tooth decay, a fact shown in a recent Journal of the American Dental Association study that found users of smokeless tobacco products were four times more likely to develop tooth decay when compared to nonusers.
Smoking and Bad Breath
Smoking can cause you to experience bad breath in two ways. First, the chemicals found in cigarettes, such as nicotine and tar, build up in the mouth, and stick to areas like the side of your cheeks, tongue, teeth, and gums. This causes what’s known as “smoker’s breath” to occur, an odor that’s hard to mistake once you have become familiar with it.
Smoking also affects your breath by increasing the production of bacteria in the mouth. As bacteria builds up and begins to decay it starts to emit a stronger aroma that makes your breath smell less than fresh. The more of this bacteria you have in your mouth, the more potent the aroma becomes. Add this smell to an already existing smoker’s breath, and you may find fewer people leaning in to hear what you have to say.
A freelance writer, Timothy Lemke learned first hand the dangers of smoking on his oral health from Dr. Derrik Stark, a Ridgefield, WA dentist.