Dental Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking

While cigarette smoking use has rapidly declined over the past few decades, there is still a decent enough portion of the population that does. Therefore, I feel it is important to address nicotine use and its affect on the human body and our health, and more specifically how it affects our mouth and the health of our teeth and gums.

This blog post is written off of fact and science. I will preface this by saying that while I wish no one used tobacco in any form (because of the health concerns that will be listed below), I don’t judge or shame any one in my life (friend, family, or patient) if they do happen to use tobacco. Our office philosophy is to educate on best health practices, but then to support each of our patients in what ways we can based on their choices. We have plenty of patients within our practice that use tobacco, and we treat them the same as anyone else.

As far as this post goes, there are two main areas to discuss how smoking negatively affects someone:

  • The negative effects on our whole body health
  • The negative effects on our oral health (how it directly affects our teeth and gums)

Whole Body Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking

This is going to get pretty dark and dreary for a second, and for good reason. Cigarettes are the #1 cause of preventable deaths in the United States, and it’s not even close. In fact, cigarette smoking causes more deaths than practically all other forms of preventable deaths combined!

So why is cigarette smoking so detrimental to our health?

  • Cigarette smoking increases risk of cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes) by 2-4x. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in our country, and smoking drastically increases the risk of these occurring. Cigarettes cause our blood vessels to thicken and become more narrow, making them much more susceptible to clots forming and causing a blockage (which is how heart attacks and strokes occur). In addition, smoking causes incredibly high amounts of inflammation throughout the body, which is really the true cause of many large scale health issues (cardiovascular disease, dementia, type II Diabetes, etc). This damage to our blood vessels occurs in people who smoke as little as 3-5 cigarettes per day, and worsens as cigarette use increases.
  • Cigarette smoke directly damages our airway and lungs. The slow and gradual destruction of our lungs by cigarette smoke results in COPD, emphysema, and worst of all lung cancer. A smoker is 13 times more likely to die of lung related issues than a non-smoker, and directly causes 90% of all lung cancers.
  • Cigarette smoke is a definitive cancer causing agent. As if causing lung cancer wasn’t bad enough, cigarette use increases a person’s risk for all sorts of cancers. Cancers of the bladder, esophagus, colon, kidney, liver, throat, pancreas, etc are all drastically increased in smokers compared to non-smokers. It has been estimated that 1/3 of all cancer deaths would be prevented if cigarettes didn’t exist.

These last few things are the main detrimental issues with cigarettes. With that being said, the main problem that cigarettes contribute to our health is that they are such a potent driver of inflammation within our body. Modern medicine is finding that inflammation is one of the main causes of most diseases, a main cause of why we age, as well as prevents how our body is capable of healing and fighting off illnesses and infections. Inflammation will negatively affect almost every bodily function, which is why smoking negatively impacts hundreds of other bodily functions (in addition to those listed above) such as pregnancy, sperm formation and fertility, bone health, vision, and many others. Much more specific to the dental office is how smoking so negatively impacts the health of our mouth. Let’s dive in to that next.

Dental Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking

This is also fairly depressing, but again reiterates how frank the negative impact of smoking is on the human body. Our mouth is the portal in which we consume cigarettes, and so the effects of the agent are even more profound, because the toxic chemicals are in their highest quantities. My undergraduate degree is in Molecular Biology, so I can get pretty nerdy when discussing these sorts of things, so I’m going to try and keep this section as simple as I can, but will go in to more scientific detail potentially later down in this post (although I doubt anyone will want to read it!).

Okay, so how does smoking impact our mouth health?

  • Smoking triples your risk of developing gum disease. This is HUGE! Gum disease, for those who aren’t aware, is the #1 cause of people losing their teeth in the world. Most estimates have anywhere from 70-80% of our population having some form of gum disease in their mouth. Gum disease is caused by the presence of bacteria in our mouths as well as chronic inflammation leading to the loss of bone and gums around our teeth. This damage is irreversible and causes many negative issues for the teeth (this is another topic for another day). If not treated, this will cause a person to lose all of their teeth at some point. So how does it cause these issues? There are two main ways:1) Cigarette smoke reduces blood flow to the mouth, thus making our mouth much less likely to heal, fight infection, and self-cleanse the gums.
    2) Cigarettes create large amounts of inflammation, which rapidly increases the progression of gum disease once it starts.
  • Cigarette smoking increases risk of getting cavities. Another biggie! Cavities, or tooth decay, is the #2 cause of people losing their teeth. Our mouth has a natural defense mechanism against cavities, and that is our saliva. Our saliva’s job is both to digest our food, but also to cleanse our teeth of food debris, thus removing a lot of potential for tooth decay to occur. Just like blood flow gets reduced to the mouth, cigarette smoke also rapidly reduces the amount of saliva generated in our mouth. Dry mouths can get tooth decay very rapidly and these types of cavities tend to get larger much quicker.
  • Increased risk of mouth and throat cancers. You can refer to earlier in this post as to why cancers are more prevalent, but the same holds true in the mouth. Nicotine use of any kind dramatically increases risk of oral cancers and throat cancers, both of which are very deadly cancers. A male is 10 times more likely to get oral cancer if he smokes, and a female is 5 times more likely if she smokes.

We at East Peoria Dental Group would recommend that everyone should quit smoking cigarettes for all of these various reasons/health risks. However, if you smoke, we won’t judge you and we can still be friends! It is merely our job to educate you on the risks.

Okay let’s turn this to a more optimistic attitude now. Let’s say you or someone you know is wanting to stop smoking. Here are 5 great benefits in the mouth that one would experience if they quit smoking!

5 Benefits to Quitting Smoking

  • Quitting smoking will improve the appearance of your teeth!

The chemicals in cigarette smoke (especially nicotine and tar) cause stains on your teeth.. Both of these materials become trapped in the nooks and crannies of your dental enamel and ultimately stain your teeth. The appearance is unsightly, and very very challenging for our dental hygienists to remove. By quitting smoking, you will be able to regain your beautiful white smile. The stains can be removed by our dental hygienists after to return your teeth to their whiter appearance. You can even enhance the color of your teeth with professional whitening!

  • Quitting smoking will make your breath smell better!

There are a few reasons that smoking causes bad breath. First and foremost, cigarette smoke itself has an unpleasant odor to it. Secondarily, the mouth becomes very dry and allows food, plaque, and bacteria to hang around in the mouth and further cause bad breath. Lastly, smoking creates an environment of inflammation and helps to generate gum disease, which is known for a very characteristic bad breath. Therefore, by quitting smoking, you can help start to eliminate all of these factors causing bad breath. Combined with proper dental cleanings, you can return your mouth to a nice fresh smell.

  • Quitting smoking will make your food taste better!

Smoking cigarettes reduces the number of taste buds in your mouth and dulls down their response, making your mouth not taste food as well as normal. The heat generated from cigarette smoke continues to damage your taste buds over the years, but once one stops smoking, those buds can regenerate back to normal, and you can begin to taste your food properly again!

  • Quitting smoking will reduce your risk for gum disease.

Smoking is one of largest risk factors for developing gum disease, so stopping will help reduce that risk! If no gum disease is present, we can treat you preventatively to ensure gum disease never develops! While gum disease is permanent, and the damage done can’t be undone, we can stop the disease from continuing to progress. Our dental hygienists can then treat your gum disease with the properly planned gum therapy for your specific needs.

  • Quitting smoking will reduce your risk of getting cavities.

Allowing your mouth to return to it’s optimal healthy state will reduce that increased risk for getting cavities. Increased saliva flow combined with reduced counts of bacteria and plaque allows your teeth to stay strong and healthy!

So there you have it! 5 ways stopping smoking will benefit your mouth, in addition to the numerous other health benefits! I think this post is long enough, so I will spare everyone on all of the scientific details of microbiology and how smoking affects the mouth. You are welcome!

Of course, if you have any further questions or wish to discuss strategies on quitting smoking or even strategies to help minimize the damage if you do smoke, please contact our office and we can talk further.

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