Smoking has declined in recent years all around the world. In 2019, the WHO reported that 65% of the world’s population is covered by tobacco control measures, and due to this, the rate of smoking has dramatically declined since 2007. Because of this, cigarettes have had far less impact on the oral health rates we see in the current day and age. However, many people still smoke. Over 4 million Canadians smoke on a regular basis, and they may not realise the damage this habit can have to their teeth and gums. Cigarettes can have a profound and long-lasting effect on your teeth, and indeed, your oral health as a whole. If you’re currently looking to quit smoking, or you’re trying to cut back on the habit, it might help to know exactly what cigarettes are doing to your mouth.
Smoking and Your Oral Health
Smoking is very bad for your oral health, and more and more people are coming to terms with this, especially if they are smokers themselves. In recent years, it’s become apparent that smoking can do a lot of damage to your health, and at least half of smokers try to permanently kick the habit year by year, but it’s hard to stop. Tobacco becomes extremely addictive over time. There are a lot of health issues involved with smoking, especially when someone smokes over a period of years and becomes less and less sensitive to the tobacco they’re using. This is why it's very important to highlight the issues that cigarettes can cause for your teeth and gums. Overall, when it comes to protecting and maintaining your oral health, smoking is one of the worst habits to keep up with. It can lead to a lot of problems within your mouth, including:
One of the main, most visible issues people have with smoking is teeth staining. Whatever we put into our mouths, whether it be food and drink or other substances, can leave a mark on our teeth as it goes through. Indeed, a person who drinks a lot of soda may notice staining on their teeth over time, and in a similar vein, a person who smokes will notice that the tobacco and tar in a standard cigarette have left stains on their teeth as well. Teeth are not solid and have pores that pick up quite a lot of material from what we consume throughout the day. Teeth will start to turn yellow, or even brown when someone smokes for a long period of time. Cigarette use can lead to much darker discolouration, compared to someone with a poor diet or a simple lack of oral hygiene, thanks to the predatory nature of the tobacco, and subsequent nicotine they are smoking.
Most often known as ‘cigarette breath’, smoking can lead to a serious case of bad breath for the user, otherwise known as halitosis. This is due to the number of ingredients a single cigarette can contain - nearly 600 - that burn when a cigarette is lit; once burned, these materials can release chemicals into a person’s mouth, which can lead to chronically bad breath. Halitosis can also arise thanks to the growing amount of plaque in a person’s mouth, caused by the conditions the smoking of a cigarette is known for. For example, a dry mouth, and poor oral hygiene. Chronic bad breath can lead to dry mouth, which can increase a patient’s experience of a sore throat and/or difficulty when swallowing. A dry mouth can also allow a build-up of plaque, which may mean a person suffers from bad oral hygiene, no matter how much they brush their teeth throughout the day.
What Happens to Your Gums
The use of cigarettes on a regular basis does not only affect your teeth, but it has a long-lasting effect on your gums as well. Smoking can lead to gingivitis, otherwise known as ‘gum disease’, thanks to the increased production of plaque associated with smoking. Due to the increased amount of bacteria in the mouth, a person could suffer quite badly with red and inflamed gums. Gum disease can have a profound effect on a person’s mouth even if they’re not a smoker, and with the increased production of bacteria and plaque in a smoker’s mouth, gum disease progresses a lot faster in patients who smoke on a regular basis. Smoking also goes on to affect the amount of oxygen there is in your bloodstream. A lack of oxygen ensures that the diseased gums do not have a chance to heal, and thus, the problem gets worse and worse, eventually leading to issues such as tooth loss. Tooth loss most often arises due to gum disease, and gingivitis is the leading cause of tooth loss in many countries around the world.
A person who smokes may be at risk of tooth loss; indeed, men who smoke on a regular and consistent basis are up to 3.6 times more likely to lose their teeth, and for women who smoke regularly and consistently, it’s 2.5 times more likely to happen. As we noted above, smoking can lead to gum disease, and gum disease is a leading cause of tooth loss. When gum disease becomes severe enough, the gum lines start to recede, leaving spaces that can become easily infected. When gum disease gets to this stage, it’s known as periodontitis, which occurs when the bone and surrounding tissue that holds your teeth in place break down. This loosens the teeth, which may then fall out, or need to be pulled out by a dentist. Cigarette use means gum disease advances much faster than it should, and there is less of a chance to stop it from getting to the stage where teeth have the chance to fall out or may need to be pulled out.
A Delay in Healing from Dental Procedures
Repeated cigarette use can also stop a patient from healing as they should after a dental procedure. Indeed, many complications can arise from someone smoking after having a dental procedure such as a tooth pull or a dental implant installed. The mouth may become infected, or the implants may be loosened or stained from the use of cigarettes. Because of this, healing takes at least twice as long, and more procedures may be needed to sort out further problems. Smoking can also lower a person’s resistance to infections, ensuring it’s much easier for plaque to get into the cracks and cause further problems, or for other diseases further down in the body to spread.
How Smoking Links with Mouth Cancer
Smoking can lead to multiple forms of cancer, such as lung cancer or throat cancer, but it can also lead to mouth cancer, which many people do not even know exists. Upwards of 80% of people who have been affected by oral forms of cancer have been tobacco users in the past, and the development risk of these types of cancers increases the more a person smokes. Overall, research has determined that a person who regularly consumes cigarettes is 6 times more likely to develop a form of mouth cancer, in the areas of the lips, tongue, and throat, than people who do not smoke.
The Effects of Dental Products
Dental care doesn’t stop at telling a patient that smoking is bad for their oral health. Indeed, after prolonged periods of smoking, treatment will most often be needed to restore someone’s teeth and gums to a healthy state, and most often, people look to whitening products to remove smoking stains from their teeth. But there are also many preventative dental products and more mundane treatments out there that can help too. Indeed, some unrelated dental products can allow people to take a break from the habit of smoking. When it comes to more expensive and involved forms of dental care for other oral health issues, such as developing specific aligners for a patient’s mouth, smoking needs to be avoided as much as possible. If a patient follows this advice, in wearing aligners they could very well have kicked their smoking habit entirely by the time their dental treatment has been completed. Similarly, a patient may also be able to use special types of toothpaste to help combat the effects of cigarette residue on their teeth and gums. It’s advised that these kinds of toothpaste are used carefully, due to their abrasive and rough ingredients, and they will usually be recommended by a dentist, rather than bought for personal use or over the counter. Overall, asking your dentist about your cigarette use could open up a whole new world of smoking prevention, and indeed, help you to kick the habit and aim for better oral health overall. It’s a good rule to make sure you always tell your dentist if you’re a smoker or not, as they may need to change the treatment they provide to you or even have more in-depth advice for you to work with.