Smoking and Dental Health: How Tobacco Affects Your Teeth

Lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and COPD may be the most well-known negative effects of smoking, but the damage done by tobacco is much more wide-ranging than that. Smoking can also wreak havoc on your dental health.

When you’re considering quitting smoking, the main reasons are likely to be the serious health consequences. Smokers lose an average of a decade of life, and with a multitude of health problems related to smoking and it being widely called the leading preventable cause of death in both the U.S. and the world, it’s easy to see why that is. However, there are many other effects of smoking that can give you even more motivation to kick the habit as soon as possible. One of the most important of these is smoking’s effect on your dental health.

Smoking and Dental Health: Smoking Causes Gum Disease

Gum disease is an infection of the gums, also known as periodontal disease. As well as causing a buildup of plaque and tartar, it can cause your gums to pull away from your teeth, leaving open spaces at the base of your teeth. When these spaces get infected, the condition becomes severe, and the bones and tissue which hold your teeth in place can break down. In the most serious cases, this can mean your teeth need to be pulled out.

The symptoms of gum disease include red or swollen gums, sensitive teeth, pain when chewing, bleeding gums, your gums pulling away from your teeth and loose teeth. If you notice one or more of these symptoms, it’s a sign something is wrong and you should see your dentist as soon as possible and do everything you can to improve your dental health.

Smoking causes gum disease, with smokers being twice as likely to get it as non-smokers. The risk increases the more you smoke, and the longer you’re a smoker for. The main reason for this is because smoking weakens your immune system, which means that your body is less able to fight off the infection when it first occurs. Smoking also has a negative impact on your body’s ability to heal itself, so treatments for gum disease are also less effective for smokers.

Smoking and Oral Cancer

Although smoking is widely known to be a cause of lung cancer and various other cancers, fewer people know that it’s also a cause of oral cancer. According to Health Canada, the risk of oral cancer is between 5 and 10 times higher in smokers compared to non-smokers, and drinking alcohol also notably increases your risk of the condition. If you both smoke and drink, your risk is much, much higher.

Although smokeless tobacco is less dangerous than smoking, this also poses risks of mouth cancer. Based on the available evidence, smokeless tobacco raises your risk for mouth cancer, but the size of the risk varies depending on the type of smokeless tobacco you use. Chewing tobacco raises the risk by up to 2 times, moist snuff (like Swedish snus) raises the risk by up to 20%, and dry snuff raises it much more, by between 4 and 13 times. For chewing tobacco and snuff, this is lower than the risk from smoking, but it’s still better to avoid it if you can.

Smokeless tobacco does lead to keratosis, though. This is a build-up of keratin on the inside of the mouth (wherever you place the smokeless tobacco), and is caused by the irritation from the smokeless tobacco (especially moist snuff). About 60% of smokeless tobacco users develop this issue after six months or more of use. These impact your oral health, but only very rarely lead to cancer.

Stained Teeth and Bad Breath

These may be a lot less serious than the risk of oral cancer and gum disease, but the stained teeth and bad breath caused by smoking will be one of the main impacts on your day-to-day life.

The tar in tobacco stains your teeth, making them anything from pale yellow to almost brown. Whitening toothpastes and toothpaste specifically designed for smokers can help to rectify this issue, but the problem is solved most effectively if you stop smoking.

Bad breath is another problem smokers suffer from more, and while mouthwash and toothpaste can help, this largely masks the problem rather than fixing it. As for many parts of the link between smoking and dental health, the best solution is to stop smoking.

Protect Your Dental Health by Quitting Smoking

There are many ways to stop smoking, and this is the best solution for your dental health. Using medicines such as Zyban and Chantix, nicotine patches and e-cigarettes are the best solutions for your dental health. While nicotine gum and smokeless tobacco will improve your oral health compared to smoking, both contain sugars, and smokeless tobacco leads to some dental health issues on its own, so they aren’t the ideal solutions.

Regardless of which approach you use, though, the most important thing for breaking the link between smoking and dental health problems is to stop as soon as you can.