Oral Health Problems From Smoking
According to the CDC, at least 14% of American adults smoke cigarettes despite widespread public awareness campaigns and ample evidence of the harms of smoking. No reason exists not to know that smoking cigarettes increase the risk of developing lung cancer, COPD, and other respiratory disorders. Yet, not everyone realizes how widespread tobacco's harmful effects are. Therefore, this article will focus on how cigarette smoking impacts oral health.
What Smoking Does to Teeth
When someone lights up a cigarette and inhales, the last thing they are usually thinking about is how all that smoke is affecting oral and dental health. Unfortunately, whether people recognize cigarettes will continue to cause oral health problems. Smoking affects the appearance and overall health of the teeth in ways that may not be apparent until becoming a hooked smoker.
Smoking and Tooth Discoloration
It's impossible to maintain naturally white teeth as a smoker. Smoking cigarettes allows nicotine and tar to seep into the tiny cracks already in everyone's tooth enamel. At this point, there's no way to brush those cigarette byproducts away. As a result, a smoker's teeth remain discolored even if they maintain excellent home oral hygiene routines.
There's a second issue at play here, as well. The nicotine and tar in cigarettes don't just infiltrate tooth enamel. They also increase the buildup of plaque and tartar on the teeth, leading to discoloration and an increased risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
Smoking Cigarettes Can Lead to Tooth Loss
Chronic smokers are much less likely than their smoke-free peers to be able to preserve all of their original teeth throughout their lives. The primary reason for this discrepancy is that smoking increases the risk of developing gum disease.
Gum disease, periodontal disease, is the most common cause of tooth loss in adults. It progresses much faster in smokers. But, of course, smoking is not the only contributing factor for most people who develop gum disease. The buildup of bacteria at and beneath the gum lines causes gum disease, so diet, oral hygiene habits, and even genetics play a role. However, smoking cigarettes routinely introduce more bacteria into the mouth while simultaneously drying up the saliva that might otherwise have helped to wash them away.
Essentially, gum disease is an inflammatory condition. Smoking increases inflammation within the body and compromises the immune system. As the bacteria take root and begin to spread beneath the gum line, weakened immunity makes it more challenging to eliminate the bacteria. When toxins break down soft and hard tissue, gingivitis eventually progresses to periodontitis.
As the connective tissues break down, people's teeth loosen and eventually fall out. So the issue isn't just that smokers are more likely to lose teeth to gum disease, either. Dental implant procedures are also less likely to succeed.
How Dentists Can Help
Everyone should visit the dentist at least twice a year for an exam and cleaning, but smokers are less likely to do so. While quitting smoking is an ideal to strive for, there's little sense in refusing dental care out of embarrassment or anxiety. Seeing a dentist for problems like gum disease, periodontitis, tooth loss, and tooth discoloration can help smokers maintain better oral health even if they cannot cut back or quit cigarettes entirely.
Treatments for Gum Disease
Suppose gum disease has progressed to the point where the connective tissue has begun to break down, and pockets have formed between the teeth and the gums. In that case, no brushing and flossing will resolve the problem. Instead, the best option is visiting a dentist for deep cleaning, also called planing and scaling. This procedure can help dental patients recover from gum disease, especially when coupled with improved home oral hygiene and, ideally, reduced smoking.
Once gingivitis has progressed to periodontitis, surgery may be necessary. A dentist or a periodontist can make minor cuts in the gums to access the roots of affected teeth and grind down pockets that have formed in the bone. The reduction of pockets reduces the bacteria's ability to propagate.
Treatments for Tooth Discoloration
Smokers who are more concerned about aesthetics and don't yet suffer from gum disease can also get help from their local dentists. Cosmetic tooth whitening treatments are available that can get rid of stains from smoking.
Make an Appointment ASAP
It doesn't matter whether or not smokers plan to quit. They should still be heading to the dentist regularly to reduce smoking effects on teeth.