According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 14 percent of American adults smoke cigarettes. Although this is a drastic decrease from the prevalence seen during the mid-20th century, that is still about 43 million people who consider themselves smokers. Some of the overall negative health effects of this habit are well known, but many are unaware of the oral issues that can arise due to smoking.
The main oral impact from smoking is on the gums. It decreases the immune system’s effectiveness, as well as dries out the oral cavity. Both of these can influence the amount and types of bacteria in the mouth. Because of these changes, smokers have twice the risk of developing gum disease than a non-smoker and the risk increases as smoking continues. This means that even people who are occasional smokers have a higher risk of gum disease than those who refrain completely. Severe gum disease can lead to infection and ultimately premature loss of teeth. When this occurs, it can be more difficult to place dental implants and replace the teeth, resulting in long-lasting consequences.
Repercussions are not just limited to the gums. From an esthetic point of view, cigarette smoke can cause darkening and staining of the teeth. It also causes more dry mouth, leading to increased cavities, and bad breath. Smoking also leads to a higher incidence of oral cancer. These outcomes are not just limited to cigarettes, but also result from using other forms of tobacco such as cigars and chewing tobacco.
The best choice for oral health is to stop smoking entirely, but if someone is not ready for that, there are ways to help mitigate the risks. One would be a good mouthwash that specifically targets harmful gum bacteria. Also, getting teeth cleaned and gums checked by a hygienist more frequently is important to make sure gum disease is not progressing and can be managed at an earlier stage.
In the end, quitting smoking and usage of tobacco products is still best. I urge anyone who is currently smoking to investigate ways to cut down or quit to avoid many of the deleterious consequences.
Dr. Nick Baumann is with Palm Desert Smiles, a family-owned dental group in Palm Desert. He can be reached at (760) 568.3602 or www.palmdesertsmiles.com.