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How Smoking Affects Your Oral Health

Dentist and patient looking at x-ray charelston sc

By now, because of numerous public service announcements and the mandatory Surgeon General’s warning, most people are aware that smoking and using tobacco products can compromise your overall health.  The risk of developing lung cancer, breathing problems, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other conditions all increase when you smoke or use tobacco products. However, smoking and tobacco products have negative consequences for your oral health as well.

How Does Tobacco Affect My Teeth?

Smoking cigarettes hinders your ability to heal. Additionally, cigars, chewing tobacco, snuff and unprocessed tobacco leaves (used as cigar wrappers) all contain tiny particles that, when mixed with saliva form a paste that is abrasive to tooth enamel. This means that your teeth wear down faster and heal slower.

Smoking and tobacco use also limit the effectiveness of many restorative dental treatments. This is because smoking causes reduced blood flow, increases bacterial growth and triggers inflammation. These issues can make it difficult to replace lost teeth using restorative dental procedures since many of these procedures, like dental implants, need the body to heal and bond with the new prosthetic. 

Implants and bridges might not be feasible 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 treatments. Studies show 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.

Smokers are twice as likely to develop gum disease than nonsmokers and since your immune system’s ability to fight infection is compromised, it’s harder for them to recover from it. Therefore, a simple infection can become something more severe like an abscess or even sepsis due to the patient’s tobacco use. Smoking also hampers 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 (commonly known as snuff or chewing tobacco) is a primary cause of cancers of the mouth, lip, tongue and pancreas. Like cigarettes, snuff contains at least 28 cancer-causing chemicals. Problems 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 recognizing that tobacco dependence is an addiction disorder. Because of this, both the psychological and physiological aspects of the disorder need to be addressed in order for smokers to break the habit. A smoker may need to make several attempts at quitting before succeeding. If you’re a smoker, work with both your medical doctor and your dentist to find a strategy for quitting that will work for you and your lifestyle.

Ultimately, the effects of smoking and using tobacco on teeth can increase the likelihood of tooth decay, gum disease as well as posing a challenge to successful restorative dentistry procedures.

For more information or help restoring your teeth from the destruction caused by tobacco use, schedule with Dr. James Dickert or Dr. Agatha Lynn of West Ashley Family Dentistry by calling (843) 371-5480 or schedule online today.