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Smoking and Your Oral Health

BrayanShanahanSmoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products is harmful to your mouth, including your teeth and gums, and can be deadly. Each year, about 443,000 people die prematurely due to smoking or exposure to second hand smoke, and 8.6 million people live with a serious illness caused by smoking.

How Does Smoking Impact My Mouth and Oral Health?

Smoking can impact your overall oral health in a number of ways, including:

  • Reducing blood flow and the supply of vital nutrients to your gums, including vitamin C. Without proper nutrients, you can develop gum disease, bone loss and even tooth loss.
  • Decreasing the amount of saliva that flows through your mouth. Saliva is important for cleaning your mouth and preventing tooth decay.
  • Affecting the appearance of your teeth, making them discolored with the yellow and brown stains that nicotine and tar leave behind.
  • Causing inflammation of the roof of your mouth.
  • Giving you bad breath.
  • Causing you to lose your sense of taste.

Most importantly, smoking causes oral cancer. Oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer, accounting for nearly five percent of all cases. More than 43,000 Americans and 4,000 Canadians were expected to be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer in 2015, resulting in more than 8,000 deaths, or about one per hour. If pharyngeal (throat) cancer is included, the number of expected deaths increases to more than 15,000 per year.

Are Cigars Safe to Smoke?

Cigar smoking is not safe, because cigars contain the same toxic and carcinogenic compounds that cigarettes do. Cigar smoking increases your risk of oral cancer, lung cancer and larynx and esophageal cancer.

Are Smokeless Tobacco and E-Cigarettes Safe?

No. Smokeless tobacco use increases your risk for developing gum disease as well as gum recession (the pulling away of the gum tissue from the teeth). Smokeless tobacco users also are four to six times more likely to develop oral cancer from chewing tobacco. In fact, the area of your mouth where you place smokeless tobacco is 50 times more likely to be a site of oral cancer.

The use of battery-operated electronic nicotine-delivery systems, such as electronic cigarettes, also is not recommended. E-cigarettes have grown in popularity over the past decade and there currently isn’t much research available about how they may affect your health. However, experts say the nicotine inhalation that occurs while using an e-cigarette can make you susceptible to bacteria buildup in your mouth, as well as tooth decay and dry mouth.

What Should I Do if I Want to Stop Smoking?

The nicotine found in tobacco products is highly addictive, so quitting can be difficult. But there are ways to successfully stop using tobacco. These include nicotine replacement therapies, such as nasal spray and inhalers, patches and gum and lozenges, all of which are available to buy over the counter. A variety of prescription medications are available as well. For some, smoking-cessation support groups also are a very helpful resource in the quitting process; these programs are available in both in-person and online community formats.

If you’re a smoker, it’s never too late to quit. Research has shown that quitting at any age will improve your health and increase your longevity. Talk with your dentist or other health care provider for more information on how to quit. FBN

By Bryan J. Shanahan, DDS


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