Thanks to the prevalence of public service announcements about the issue and the mandatory Surgeon General’s warning, most people are aware that smoking and using tobacco products is harmful to your health. The increased risk of developing lung cancer, breathing problems, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are well known. However, it may not be as widely known that smoking and tobacco products are bad for your oral health.
How Does Tobacco Affect Oral Health?
Smoking cigarettes introduces nicotine into your body which hinders its’ ability to heal. For your oral health, this means that your tooth enamel wears down faster. Additionally, cigars, chewing tobacco, snuff and unprocessed tobacco leaves (used as cigar wrappers) all contain tiny abrasive particles that wear down tooth enamel. When they mix with your saliva, they create a caustic paste that destroys your enamel over time. Smoking and tobacco use also limit the effectiveness of many dental treatments. Because one of the known effects of nicotine includes reduced blood flow and increased bacteria production and inflammation, these effects can cause using restorative dental procedures to heal more slowly.
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 aren’t 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 just 1.4 percent in nonsmokers.
Treating gum disease is harder.
First of all, smokers are twice as likely to develop gum disease than non-smokers. Also, smoking 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 that are being treated for gum disease have a harder time coping with the symptoms of gum disease. Smoking stunts 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:
- Risk for cancer of the voice box, esophagus, colon and bladder due to swallowing toxins in the juice created by chewing.
- Irritation of your gums, which can lead to gum (periodontal) disease.
- Increased risk of tooth decay as sugar is often added to enhance the flavor of chewing tobacco.
- 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 start by understanding that tobacco dependence is an addiction disorder and all aspects of nicotine addiction, both the psychological and physiological ones, will need to be addressed to successfully break the habit. It’s not uncommon for smokers to make several attempts at quitting before finally succeeding. If you’re a smoker, work 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. John C. Cranham in Chesapeake, VA by calling 757.656.4109 or schedule online today.