If you’re one of the millions of Americans working on kicking a cigarette habit, here is one more reason to keep it up: your oral health. Many patients wonder whether smoking cigarettes, or quitting, can really have that big of an impact on your teeth and gums. The answer? A resounding yes.
Smoking and Tooth Discoloration
Cigarette smoke is one of the major contributors to stained and discolored teeth. Tobacco contains both nicotine and tar, the main culprits in tooth staining. Tooth enamel, though it may seem hard and non-porous, is actually made up of microscopic pores. Nicotine and tar build up gradually in these pores, making discoloration pretty much unavoidable. Yellowish staining can occur fairly quickly, but longer-term cigarette smoking can result in brownish stains.
Smoking and Oral Health Issues
One of the most common oral health issues smoking presents is bad breath, or halitosis. Traces of smoke and chemicals remaining in the lungs and mouth contribute to the issue, as does the dry mouth that smokers often experience. Saliva combats oral bacteria that causes bad breath; when a person experiences chronic dry mouth, that bacteria can flourish. And because smoking can compromise your sense of taste and your olfactory sensitivity–that is, your sense of smell–an individual might have difficulty recognizing the extent of the problem.
Beyond aesthetic concerns lie many more serious problems. Smoking taxes your immune system and introduces a higher chance for bacterial plaque, putting smokers at a much higher risk for gum disease which can progress toward tooth and bone loss. In fact, as Donna M. Rounsaville writing for Colgate points out, “smoking is… one of the most significant risk factors associated with gum or periodontal disease.” And because smoking lowers the amount of oxygen circulating in the blood, healing infected gums is more of a challenge.
The most serious oral health risk associated with smoking cigarettes is mouth cancer. According to Cancer Treatments Centers of America, a full 80% of people with mouth cancer diagnoses use tobacco.
Reversing Tooth and Gum Problems by Quitting Smoking
A combination of smoking cessation and a focused effort to improve your oral health can quickly yield positive results. For starters, it may be helpful to return for dental check-ups more often than you regularly would. This way, you can work with your dentist to formulate a plan to address any oral health issues and then follow up to check on your progress and stay motivated!