Smoking and Oral Health
Maryville and Knoxville, TN
Surprising as it may sound, many smokers need to be made more aware of the dangers of tobacco use. In fact, just 29 percent of smokers say they believe themselves to be at an above-average risk for heart attack compared with their nonsmoking peers, according to a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association in March of 1999.
Obviously, while information about the medical problems associated with smoking – such as lung disease, cancer, heart disease and low-birth-weight infants – is widely available, many smokers seem to have turned out.
Researchers also have found that the following problems occur more often in people who use tobacco products:
- Oral cancer
- Bad breath
- Stained teeth
- Increased build up of plaque and tartar on the teeth
- Tooth loss
- Increased loss of bone within the jaw
- Loss of taste
- Delayed healing process following tooth extraction, periodontal treatment or oral surgery
- Less success with periodontal treatment
- Less success with dental implants
- Gum recession
- Mouth sores
- Facial wrinkling
How Does Smoking Lead to Gum Disease?
Tobacco products damage your gum tissue by affecting the attachment of bone and soft tissue to your teeth. More specifically, it appears that smoking interferes with the normal function of gum tissue cells. This interference makes smokers more susceptible to infections, such as periodontal disease, and also seems to impair blood flow to the gums — which may affect wound healing.
Not Just Cigarettes
Other tobacco products are also harmful to your periodontal health. Smokeless tobacco also can cause gums to recede and increase the chance of losing the bone and fibers that hold your teeth in place.
And, a study of cigar and pipe smokers published in the January, 1999 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association revealed that cigar smokers experience tooth loss and jaw bone loss at rates equivalent to those of cigarette smokers. Pipe smokers experience tooth loss at a rate similar to cigarette smokers. Beyond these risks, pipe and cigar smokers are still at risk for oral and pharyngeal (throat) cancers – even if you don’t inhale – as well as face the other oral health downsides of smoking – bad breath, stained teeth, and increased risk of periodontal (gum) disease.
Smokeless tobacco products (for example, snuff and chewing tobacco) contain at least 28 chemicals that have been shown to increase the risk of oral cancer and cancer of the throat and esophagus. In fact, chewing tobacco contains higher levels of nicotine than cigarettes, making it harder to quit than cigarettes. And one can of snuff delivers more nicotine than over 60 cigarettes.
Smokeless tobacco can irritate your gum tissue, causing it to recede or pull away from your teeth. Once the gum tissue recedes, your teeth roots become exposed, creating an increased risk of tooth decay. Exposed roots are also more sensitive to hot and cold or other irritants, making eating and drinking uncomfortable.
In addition, sugars, which are often added to enhance the flavor of smokeless tobacco, can increase your risk for tooth decay. A study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association showed that chewing tobacco users were four times more likely than nonusers to develop tooth decay. Smokeless tobacco also typically contains sand and grit, which can wear down your teeth. Finally, use of smokeless tobacco products increases the risk of cancers of the cheek, gingival (gums) and inner surface of the lips by about 50 times compared with nonsmokers.
Time to Quit Smoking!
The American Academy of Periodontology hopes to help educate the public about one specific threat to smokers – periodontal disease. Recent studies have shown that tobacco use may be one of the most significant risk factors in the development and progression of periodontal disease. In addition, following periodontal treatment or any type of oral surgery, the chemicals in tobacco can slow down the healing process and make the treatment results less predictable.
How does smoking increase your risk for periodontal disease?
As a smoker, you are more likely than nonsmokers to have the following problems:
- Calculus – plaque that hardens on your teeth and can only be removed during a professional cleaning
- Deep pockets between your teeth and gums
- Loss of the bone and tissue that support your teeth
If the calculus is not removed during a professional cleaning, and it remains below your gum line, the bacteria in the calculus can destroy your gum tissue and cause your gums to pull away from your teeth. When this happens, periodontal pockets form and fill with disease-causing bacteria.
If left untreated, periodontal disease will progress. The pockets between your teeth and gums can grow deeper, allowing in more bacteria that destroy tissue and supporting bone. As a result, the gums may shrink away from the teeth making them look longer. Without treatment, your teeth may become loose, painful and even fall out.
Save Your Smile
Research shows that smokers loose more teeth than nonsmokers do. In fact, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 20 percent of people over age 65 who have never smoked are toothless, while a whopping 41.3 percent of daily smokers over age 65 are toothless.
In addition, research shows that current smokers don’t heal as well after periodontal treatment as former smokers or nonsmokers. But these effects are reversible if the smokers kick the habit before beginning treatment.
Kick the Habit
Regardless of how long you have used tobacco products, quitting now can greatly reduce serious risks to your health. Eleven years after quitting, former smokers’ likelihood of having periodontal (gum) disease was not significantly different from people who never smoked.
Even reducing the amount you smoke appears to help. One study found that smokers who reduced their smoking habit to less than half a pack a day had only three times the risk of developing periodontal disease compared with nonsmokers, which was significantly lower than the six times higher risk seen in those who smoked more than a pack and a half per day. Another study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association found that the mouth lesion leukoplakia completely resolved within 6 weeks of quitting in 97.5% of patients with these lesions who used smokeless tobacco products.