Spotlight on Smoking: How Tobacco Affects Your Oral Health

Although tobacco use has decreased dramatically over the years, an estimated 34 million Americans still smoke.

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in the United States, and most people know that tobacco can lead to lung cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, but smoking also affects your teeth and gums as well.

Tobacco doesn’t just include cigarettes—cigars and pipes are also forms of smoking tobacco, and while e-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco, they do still contain nicotine, which can cause oral health problems. Let’s take a closer look at how exactly tobacco can impact your oral health. 

The Many Problems Tobacco Use Can Cause in the Oral Cavity

Smoking does more than cause your teeth to discolor. Below are the main issues that tobacco use can cause in the oral cavity, especially with prolonged use. However, even recreational smoking has the chance to impact your dental health.

Gum Disease

Periodontal disease, or gum disease, is a condition in which plaque builds up around the gumline and causes irritation, which can eventually lead to an infection. In an otherwise healthy person, the immune system would attempt to fight off the infection, which could delay the symptoms of gum disease from making themselves too noticeable.

However, in people who smoke, the immune system is weakened by tobacco use, which makes it more difficult for the body to fight gum disease. This can lead to a faster progression of gum disease. Smokers have twice the risk of gum disease as non-smokers.

Oral Cancer

Oral cancers include cancers in the mouth, neck, and throat. Tobacco use can lead to the development of oral cancer—smokers are 10 times more at risk for oral cancer than non-smokers. Cigarettes contain thousands of chemicals, many of which are known to cause cancer.

It’s recommended that smokers get annual screenings for oral cancer with their dentist in Asheville starting at the age that they use tobacco. Identifying oral cancer early can minimize the need for treatment and potentially save your life! 

Poor Healing

Tobacco use affects the ability of the oral cavity to heal itself, particularly after cosmetic or restorative procedures. For example, dental implants, which are considered to be the most effective form of tooth replacement, have a very high success rate of over 95%. However, if you smoke, you’re more at risk for complications following this procedure, including implant failure.

It takes smokers longer to heal following dental procedures and they may even have complications such as unusual swelling, bleeding, or pain. This is because the immune system isn’t able to repair the body as it would in people who don’t smoke or use tobacco.

Teeth Staining

It’s known that smoking can cause stained teeth, and the longer you smoke or the more frequently you smoke, the worse the stains can be. Smoking can cause moderate to severe tooth discoloration, and smokers are more likely to be unhappy with the appearance of their teeth compared to those who don’t smoke. 

While a professional teeth whitening and regular teeth cleanings can help remove some of these stains, unless you stop using tobacco, the stains will inevitably return. If you’re a former smoker, your Asheville dentist can review your teeth whitening options with you to help get your beautiful smile back!

Chronic Bad Breath 

People who use tobacco tend to have halitosis, also known as chronic bad breath. This is bad breath that doesn’t go away even with regular brushing and flossing.

The chemicals from tobacco can linger in the oral cavity, which can cause bad breath. However, since smoking also increases your risk of gum disease, which can also cause persistent bad breath, you could have gum disease and not know it.

If you notice that your breath still isn’t fresh after cleaning your smile, or you notice a bad taste in your mouth that doesn’t go away, these are both signs of a potential problem that’s worth getting checked out with your professional dentist. 

Tooth Loss

Did you know that smoking puts you at a higher risk of losing your teeth? Smokers are over three times more likely to lose their teeth than people who don’t smoke. Tooth loss is not a normal part of aging. Your teeth were meant to last you for life, but when you smoke or use tobacco, you’re more at risk for gum disease, which is the leading cause of tooth loss in older adults.

The nicotine in cigarettes can also mask the symptoms of gum disease by reducing blood flow to the oral cavity, which means you may not notice a problem until it’s too late to effectively reverse the condition. If you smoke or use tobacco, getting regular checkups with your Asheville dentist is essential to preventing problems with your smile, including tooth loss.

Oral Infections

Smoking can also disrupt your oral cavity and lead to an overgrowth of candida, a natural yeast that exists in the mouth. When this happens, you can experience an infection called oral thrush, which needs to be treated with antibiotics to go away. People who smoke are more at risk for oral thrush, which can cause symptoms such as white lesions in the mouth, a loss of taste, and a burning sensation in the mouth.

Start Learning About Your Options to Quit

Your dentist is often the first professional to see the devastating effects of smoking in the body through our oral cavity. If you smoke or use tobacco, it’s never too late to consider quitting.

In fact, people who quit tobacco can see their smiles go back to normal—the immune system can begin functioning normally again, helping to fight bad bacteria in the oral cavity, and your risk for gum disease decreases. Within just two days of quitting, your taste and smell can also begin to improve, and your mouth may feel fresher and cleaner.

If you smoke or use tobacco, don’t put off your regular dental checkups—they could just save your life, and they can save your smile too! Contact us at Saunders DDS today to schedule an appointment with us for your next exam at (828) 277-6060, or request an appointment through our contact form!