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Oral Health Impacts of Smoking and Tobacco Products

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Andrew Slavin, DMD, FACS

Andrew Slavin, DMD, FACS

October 17, 2018

In 2014, this country acknowledged the 50th anniversary of the first Report on Smoking and Health, which was issued by the office of the Surgeon General. The report included a long list of illnesses which were all attributable to either smoking directly, or inhaling secondhand smoke. Since statistics have been kept by the US Department of Health and Human Services, it is known that more than 20 million Americans have died as a result of smoking.

Of those 20 million individuals, at least 2.5 million were actually non-smokers who were victimized by frequent inhalation of secondhand smoke. These facts should serve to make it crystal clear how detrimental smoking and using tobacco products can be to your overall health, but it can also have a huge impact on your oral health.

Impacts of smoking on oral health

There is a wide range of diseases and illnesses which can be brought on by smoking and using tobacco products. The most serious of these is oral cancer, and that may lead to the removal of infected tissue or bone from the mouth, or even worse consequences. Lung and throat cancer are also possibilities for smokers, and all of these forms of cancer can be contracted no matter which form of tobacco is being used.

Another serious oral problem triggered by smoking is periodontal disease, which occurs with smokers because smoking disrupts the functionality of tissues in the gums. Smoking also interferes with blood circulation in the gums and all the surrounding tissues, making it much more likely that inflammation will develop in the gums. Once a smoking individual does develop periodontal disease, it will progress much more quickly than it would if the same person were not smoking. Since the disruption which brought on the periodontal disease is constantly accelerated by continued smoking, the progress of the disease goes unchecked.

Whenever any treatment is performed to address periodontal disease in a smoker, the recovery time is much slower, again because blood flow has been reduced to the area of the gums. It is also much more likely that smoking victim of periodontal disease will require some degree of bone removal from the jaw, because the bone has become too weakened to function properly.

One of the more visually noticeable impacts on oral health when smoking, is that teeth can quickly become stained because of the presence of tar and nicotine from tobacco products. Teeth can be discolored to a yellowish hue relatively quickly, and for those people who have engaged in years of smoking, teeth can even become nearly brown.

Other dental problems caused by smoking

People who smoke regularly are more susceptible to the buildup of the harmful bacteria in dental plaque, which is originally formed by the bacteria attached to tooth surfaces. Smokers accumulate plaque and tartar at a greater rate than non-smokers do, which also makes them much more likely to develop gum disease and tooth decay.

Bad breath is one of the lesser consequences of smoking, but for people who smoke regularly, it’s nearly impossible to disguise persistent bad breath. Smoking carries its own form of halitosis, and these bad odors can only be temporarily suppressed with fresh-flavored chewing gums, mouthwashes, and breath fresheners.

Among the more subtle problems developing in the mouth for smokers, is an inflammation of the salivary glands located in the upper part of the mouth. This can be painful and it can lead to drymouth, which prevents saliva from performing its normal cleansing action. There’s also a significantly lower rate of success among smokers who require some kind of dental implant procedure, as well as a greater likelihood of negative side effects afterward.

Impact of vaping and chewing tobacco

Many people in this country, both young and old, have taken up the habit of smoking electronic cigarettes, or vaping as it is called. The reason for the popularity of vaping is the widespread misconception that it is healthier for you than smoking tobacco products. While it may in fact, be slightly less harmful than tobacco, vaping is still very dangerous to your overall health, and to your oral health in particular. E-cigarette liquid still contains nicotine, as well as other chemicals which are burned in the process of smoking. The nicotine itself attacks soft gum tissue in the mouth and can lead to periodontal disease, whereas the chemicals which are present can increase your risk of oral cancer. Does that sound safer than smoking cigarettes?

Using chewing tobacco or any other kind of smokeless tobacco is very similar to vaping, in that it is slightly less lethal, but a major health risk all the same. Any of these forms of tobacco can cause cancer of the mouth, cheeks, gums, esophagus, or tongue. Before it gets to that point though, it will cause your teeth to become stained, and since tobacco carries its own kind of repugnant odor, it will also cause bad breath in people who use it. Although these kinds of tobacco products are often marketed as the safe alternative to smoking, the truth is that they are anything but safe, and you should steer clear of all forms of smokeless tobacco.


Andrew Slavin, DMD, FACS

Andrew Slavin, DMD, FACS

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