Smoking is widely known to be bad for your health, and fortunately in Australia the use of tobacco is on the decline. However there are still many people who are addicted to cigarettes and dentists see the impact of this everyday in their practices. As trained professionals, dentists and hygienists are aware of the risks of smoking and the specific impact on oral health. We know that for many, quitting is difficult, but there are real benefits.
If you have wondered “If I quit smoking, what will be the effect on my teeth?” then we hope to answer some of your questions below.
If you are a smoker, then I am sure you are used to medical professionals advising you of the damage that cigarettes can do to your health. But what about the effect on your oral health?
Cigarette smoking is a leading contributor to a range of oral health conditions which means there are even more reasons to quit. From cancer, to bad breath and gum disease, smoking is central to a variety of problems
The most serious of these issues is Oral cancer. This means cancer that can affect the gums, the tongue and the throat. Smokers up to 10 times more likely to develop oral cancer compared to non smokers. Dentists screen people for cancer as part of routine examinations, however there is a significant mortality risk and serious issues related to surgery if it is required.
If you quit smoking this risk decreases significantly.
Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease is often much more likely or more severe in smokers. In essence, the nicotine in tobacco smoke reduces the amount of healthy blood flow to the gums. This reduces the body’s immune response and therefore its ability to deal with infections. Gum disease progresses more rapidly, resulting in loose and infected teeth that often need to be removed. Much of the damage caused by gum disease is irreversible, and the best dentists can hope for, is to slow down or stabilise it’s progression. Smokers can limit the effects of gum disease by practicing meticulous oral hygiene including regular brushing and flossing.
Smoking also has a drying effect on the mouth with more mucous and less watery saliva being produced. The impact of poor saliva quality means that you have an increased risk of tooth decay. Much like with gum disease, decay can advance at a more rapid rate and can lead to loss of teeth, or require extensive and expensive dental work.
This increasing dry mouth is also responsible for reduced taste sensation. Saliva helps to break down your food and carry it to the taste buds. It is reassuring to know that the simple pleasure of enjoying the flavours of food will return if you quit smoking.
The drying effect, increased gum disease and tooth decay all contribute to bad breath, known as halitosis. Bad breath is generally caused by the waste products of bacteria and rotting food particles that remain trapped in the mouth. Bad breath can be improved by better cleaning and staying well hydrated. Chewing sugar free gum will help produce saliva as well as masking the odours.
Staining and discolouration of teeth is also caused by tobacco. The tar and nicotine by- products can penetrate through the enamel of the tooth, changing the colour dramatically. The stain can also stick to the outer surface of the tooth causing more visible dark patches.
Most of these surface stains need to be professionally removed by a dentist or Hygienist. The use of dental bleaching gel is the only process that shifts the internal discolouration caused by smoking.
As far as your oral health is concerned, smoking is a major risk factor and the sooner it is ceased, the happier and healthier your mouth will be. Tobacco addiction is most definitely a real problem and is by no means simple to overcome. We are fortunate to have resources such as Quitline and great support from your GP to help overcome the issue.
Even if you are smoking, regular trips to the dentist, or dental hygienist are very helpful in reducing the impacts of tobacco use by identifying, treating and most importantly, educating around preventive care. It can be a long road to quitting, but the benefits for your oral health are well worth the journey.