It’s been 54 years since America’s surgeon general, Luther Terry, announced that smoking caused lung cancer and heart disease and the government should do something about it. The surgeon general’s report was released in the year following the peak smoking year, 1963, when an estimated 4,345 cigarettes were consumed per adult in that year alone. Back then, people could smoke just about anywhere: in restaurants, in offices, on trains and airplanes.
As the years passed, we learned more about the harmful effects of tobacco, it became less socially acceptable, smokers became pariahs, more restrictions were put on where people could smoke, and smoking in public almost disappeared.
While smoking has dropped from nearly 50% in the 1960s to around 15% today, there are still almost 38 million Americans who still smoke. All those smokers are probably aware of the publicized dangers of smoking, including cancer and heart disease, but far fewer ever think about the negative impact smoking has on oral health.
The list of damage caused by tobacco ranges from bad breath to oral cancer. According to the American Dental Association, there are more than 7,000 chemicals found in tobacco smoke including nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide, acetaldehyde (a carcinogen in digestive tract cancers), and N-nitrosamines.
What are the specific dangers to oral wellness that smoking presents? Web MD lists the following:
- Bad breath
- Tooth discoloration
- Inflammation of the salivary gland openings on the roof of the mouth
- Increased build-up of plaque and tartar on the teeth
- Increased loss of bone within the jaw
- Increased risk of leukoplakia, white patches inside the mouth
- Increased risk of developing gum disease, a leading cause of tooth loss
- Delayed healing process following tooth extraction, periodontal treatment, or oral surgery
- Lower success rate of dental implant procedures
- Increased risk of developing oral cancer
Smoking and Oral Health
The Virtual Medical Center says that smokers have 2.5 to 3.5 times greater risk of severe gum disease than non-smokers. Smoking interferes with the normal function of gum tissue cells, making smokers more susceptible to infections such as periodontal disease.
Smoking also impairs blood flow, which can prolong the healing process. Smoking slows recovery from any type of oral surgery or implant procedure, and the slower a wound is to heal, the more susceptible it is to infection. Even a simple tooth extraction can result in additional pain and potential danger, thanks to smoking.
Smokers are three times more likely to experience dry socket after a tooth extraction. Dry socket is extremely painful and prolongs the healing procedure. Normally after a tooth is removed, a blood clot forms, which protects bone and nerve tissue and helps gums to heal. Smoking can inhibit or dislodge this clot, which may prevent healing and cause infection.
Cigar and Pipe Smokers
For those who smoke cigars or pipes and think they’ve somehow escaped the oral health risks of cigarette smokers, think again. While cigar and pipe smokers may have a lower risk of getting lung cancer, since most don’t inhale, their risk for oral health problems is no lower than it is for cigarette smokers. As far as your mouth, teeth, and gums are concerned, smoke is all the same whether it’s from a cigarette, cigar, or pipe.
If you use smokeless tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco, your oral health problems may be even greater than smokers. Besides the bad breath and discolored teeth that smokers live with, smokeless tobacco users are prone to cancer of the mouth, lip, tongue, voice box, esophagus, pancreas, colon, and bladder, not to mention a good chance of periodontal disease.
Over the last few years, vaping has become popular as a smoking replacement, and it’s been promoted as being safer than smoking. Of course, being relatively new, vaping really hasn’t had the years of research devoted to it as cigarettes had in 1964 when they were found to be harmful. So, is vaping better for your oral health?
The first study of vaping was released in 2016. The study, conducted by the University of Rochester Medical Center, concluded that vaping and e-cigarettes caused cells within the mouth to release inflammatory proteins, which in turn stress the cells, which could lead to various oral diseases.
Not everyone has been as welcoming to vaping as we have in America. Up until May 23, 2018, vaping products with nicotine were banned in Canada. They are now legal, but will be regulated exactly as cigarettes are.
Stay Informed on Your Oral Health
The best idea is to either quit smoking or never start because the cancer and heart disease you hear about is just a part of a larger picture that includes gum disease, bone loss, tooth loss and oral cancers.
If you’re a smoker, it’s best to be proactive and vigilant. Just like any physical issue, finding problems early is better than finding them later. To make certain that, as a smoker, you’re not experiencing any of the orally related consequences of smoking, see your dentist at least twice a year for a full checkup.
The office of Dr. Brei and Dr. Schneider specialize in prevention, cosmetic dentistry, and whitening—areas of expertise that smokers may need. Contact Dr. Brei’s office and one of the helpful and highly trained staff can schedule you for a consultation.
Of course, you’re going to successfully quit smoking very soon; but until you do, your oral health is too important to neglect. Let Dr. Brei give you one less thing to worry about.