Most people are aware that smoking and using tobacco products has a negative impact on your overall health thanks to public service announcements and the mandatory Surgeon General’s warning. The increased risks of developing lung cancer, breathing problems, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other conditions are widely known. However, it’s not as commonly known that smoking and tobacco products are also just as bad for your oral health.
What Happens to Teeth When You Smoke?
Smoking cigarettes slows down your ability to heal which means that your teeth wear down faster. Additionally, cigars, chewing tobacco, snuff and unprocessed tobacco leaves (used as cigar wrappers) all contain tiny particles that combine with your saliva to form an abrasive paste. Over time, this paste erodes away your tooth enamel.
Smoking and tobacco can also prevent proper healing after dental procedures. The effects of the nicotine your body takes in from smoking include reduced blood flow, increased bacteria and inflammation. These issues can make it difficult to replace lost teeth using restorative dental procedures.
For example, implants and bridges might not be an option for a tobacco user because your surrounding teeth and jawbone may have weakened from infection or decay and are no longer strong enough to support these procedures. Research shows that due to slow healing and weaker jawbone tissue, the implant failure rate for smokers was almost 16 percent, compared to only 1.4 percent in nonsmokers.
Smoking Makes Gum Disease Harder to Treat
First of all, smokers are twice as likely to develop gum disease than non-smokers and smoking also impedes your immune system’s ability to fight infection. Therefore, using tobacco can cause a simple infection to become something worse like an abscess or even sepsis. Also, smokers diagnosed with gum disease have a harder time treating the symptoms of gum disease. Smoking also hampers the growth of blood vessels, which means less blood flow to the gum tissues which slows healing after oral surgery.
What about chewing tobacco?
Smokeless tobacco (also known as snuff or chewing tobacco) is a primary cause of cancers of the mouth, lip, tongue and pancreas. Like cigarettes, chewing contains at least 28 cancer-causing chemicals.
Issues caused by smokeless tobacco include:
- Increased risk of cancer of the voice box, esophagus, colon and bladder due to swallowing toxins in the juice created by chewing.
- Irritation of your gum tissue, which can lead to gum (periodontal) disease.
- Increased risk of tooth decay as sugar is often added to chewing tobacco to enhance the flavor.
- Tooth sensitivity and erosion due to sand and grit from smokeless tobacco wearing down teeth.
What can I do?
If you’re a smoker, you can begin the process of quitting by recognizing that tobacco dependence is an addiction disorder. All aspects of nicotine addiction, including both the psychological and physiological ones, need to be addressed to break the habit, and it’s not unusual for smokers to make several attempts at quitting several times before succeeding. If you’re a smoker, talk with both your medical doctor and your dentist to find a strategy that can help you quit for good.
Ultimately, the effects of smoking and using tobacco on teeth can lead to tooth decay, gum disease and pose a challenge with restorative dentistry. For more information or help restoring your teeth from the destruction caused by tobacco use, schedule with Dr. Stacey Sparkman Hall of Williamsburg Center Dental Health in Williamsburg, VA by calling 757.565.6303.