Everyone is aware of the many adverse health effects of smoking and other tobacco products. However, one of the most noticeable effects of smoking that most people don’t pay much attention to is on the teeth. Perhaps the most direct impact of smoking is reflected on the teeth. When you smoke, you are exposing your teeth to both nicotine and tobacco, due to which you end up developing stained and yellow teeth. Bad breath is also likely to follow.
The more you smoke, the more it is going to impact your teeth and even your sense of taste. Not to forget, if combined with smoking, you have a habit of eating highly processed and junk foods, then that also is going to have a far worse effect on your teeth.
Not only does smoking lower your immunity, but it also puts you at risk of developing gum disease and can also increase your risk of developing oral cancer.(1,2)
Effect Of Smoking On Your Teeth
Here are some of the immediate effects of smoking on your teeth:
- Bad breath
- Yellow and discolored teeth
- Inflammation of the opening of the salivary glands present on the roof of your mouth
- Increased buildup of plaque and tartar on the teeth
- A lower success rate of getting any dental implant procedures
- Increased loss of bone in the jaw
- Increased risk of developing leukoplakia, which are white patches inside the mouth(3)
- Increased risk of developing gum disease, which is one of the leading causes of tooth loss
- Increased risk of getting oral cancer
- Delayed healing process after any kind of tooth procedure such as tooth extraction, oral surgery, root canal, or periodontal treatment(4)
Let us take an in-depth look at some of the main ways in which smoking affects your oral health.
Plaque and Tartar Buildup
Even though plaque and tartar buildup in people who do not smoke as well, but in people who are regular smokers, there is an increased buildup of tartar and plaque.
The chemicals present in tobacco products have a direct effect on the saliva flow in your mouth. This makes it easier for any oral bacteria to stick to the gums and teeth. Without the appropriate level of saliva flow, these bacteria remain stuck to the teeth and gum for a longer time. Bacteria-laden plaque ends up developing on the teeth and also along the gum line.
If it is not removed on a daily basis, it can start hardening into tartar, also known as calculus. Tartar or calculus is a substance that is so hard to remove that you will need to undergo professional cleaning of your teeth in order to remove it. Smokers are at three to six times more likely to develop periodontal disease or gum disease, which attacks the roots and cause the teeth to fall out.
Even the smokeless tobacco products can cause irritation to the gum tissue, causing the gums to become loose around the teeth. This not only makes it easier for bacteria to settle in and cause tooth decay, but as the gums become loose around the tooth, it can cause the tooth to fall out more easily as well.
Impact on Blood Circulation
Smoking is known to affect the normal functioning of the gum tissue. This can cause infection and also restrict blood flow. Smoking also delays healing after you undergo any type of oral surgery for dental implants, tooth extraction, or when you get treated for gum disease. This makes the recovery process very challenging and long drawn out.
Smokers may also notice that when brushing or flossing, their gums bleed easily.
Discoloration of Teeth and Bad Breath
One of the main effects of smoking is the staining of your teeth. It is common for smokers to have discolored or yellowing teeth. This happens due to the tar and nicotine present in tobacco. This makes your teeth turn yellow in a very short amount of time. It is commonly observed that heavy smokers usually end up having almost brown teeth after many years of smoking.
The more you smoke, the more likely it is that you will tooth discoloration happen very quickly. The amount of tobacco you smoke also has a role to play in how discolored your teeth get. The longer you smoke also will determine how fast your teeth become discolored.
Smoking and Oral Cancer
Nearly 90 percent of people who are diagnosed with mouth, throat, or lips cancer are found to be smokers. Smokers are almost six to eight times more likely than non-smokers to develop oral cancer.(5)
Smokers are also at a much higher risk of dying from oral cancer than people who have never smoked. In fact, the risk of dying from oral cancer goes up with the amount of tobacco smoked per day.(6)
Apart from oral cancer, smoking also increases the risk of developing the following cancers:
- Nasopharynx cancer
- Nasal cavity cancer
- Paranasal sinuses cancer
- Larynx cancer
- Pharynx or throat cancer
- Esophagus cancer
- Bladder cancer
Smoking has also been linked to the development of pancreatic cancer, cervical cancer, kidney and stomach cancers, ovarian cancer, and some types of leukemia as well. However, there is still a lack of evidence to conclusively prove this.
Smoking can not only cause oral cancer but it then also blocks your body from fighting against the cancer. This happens in the following manner:
- Various poisons present in cigarette smoke end up weakening the body’s immune system, making it difficult for the white blood cells to kill off the cancerous cells. When this happens, the cancerous cells just keep growing without anything to stop their rapid growth.
- Poisons and chemicals present in tobacco smoke also cause damage to a cell’s DNA, or it can even alter the DNA of a cell. Since DNA is the cell’s central ‘instruction manual’ that regulates healthy cellular growth and function, damage to the DNA can cause the cell to start growing out of control, eventually becoming a cancer tumor.
How Does Smoking Cause Gum Disease?
Smoking and other tobacco products can cause gum disease as it affects the attachment of soft tissue and bone to the teeth. The chemicals present in tobacco products interfere with the normal functioning of the gum tissue cells. This disruption makes smokers highly susceptible to infections such as periodontal disease. This also impairs the blood flow to the gums, which affects wound healing.
What About Smokeless Tobacco Products?
No, smokeless tobacco products can also affect your teeth and gums. Smokeless tobacco products such as chewing tobacco and snuff contain around 28 to 30 chemicals that are known to increase the risk of developing throat cancer, esophagus cancer, and oral cancer.(7)
Chewing tobacco, in fact, is known to contain even higher levels of nicotine than what is present in cigarettes, making it even more challenging to quit chewing tobacco than cigarettes. Additionally, one can of snuff can deliver more nicotine to your body than over 60 cigarettes put together.
Smokeless tobacco also causes irritation to the gum tissue, causing it to pull away or recede from your teeth. Once the gum tissue draws back, the teeth roots get exposed. This increases the risk of tooth decay. Exposed roots are also more sensitive to cold and hot or any other irritants, which makes it very difficult to eat and drink. With the gum tissue pulling back and exposing the roots of the teeth, it also becomes more likely that your teeth will fall out
Furthermore, many of these smokeless tobacco products also contain added sugars, which are added to enhance the flavor of the product. This can increase the risk of tooth decay.(8)
Research published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) found that chewing tobacco users are four times more likely to develop tooth decay than people who do not use chewing tobacco.(9)
Many smokeless tobacco products also contain grit and sand, which end up wearing down your teeth.
Do The Teeth Get Better If You Quit Smoking?
Yes, quitting can definitely improve your oral health and also decrease the chances of developing gum disease, oral cancer, and tooth loss.
A study done over a period of 12 months on 49 participants who were smokers and also had chronic gum disease, found that when the participants were helped to quit smoking, significant improvements were noticed in their oral health. The participants were helped to quit smoking through nicotine replacement therapy, counseling, and medication. At the end of the study, nearly one-fifth of the participants had successfully stopped smoking.(10)
The Aarhus University in Denmark also carried out scientific reviews that showed that quitting smoking can reduce the risk of the onset as well as the progression of gum disease.(11) Smokers have an 80 percent higher risk of periodontal disease and bone loss as compared to those who do not smoke.
Remember, it is never too late to quit, even if you have been smoking for a really long time. You will notice immediate and long-term benefits for not just your teeth and oral health, but for your overall health as well. The biggest one being that you will significantly reduce your risk of developing many types of cancers.
Quitting smoking will not only protect your teeth, but it will also lower the chance of developing oral cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and many other health problems.
So the best gift you can give yourself, your family members, and your teeth is to quit smoking.
- Martinelli, E., Palmer, R.M., Wilson, R.F. and Newton, J.T., 2008. Smoking behaviour and attitudes to periodontal health and quit smoking in patients with periodontal disease. Journal of clinical periodontology, 35(11), pp.944-954.
- Antunes, J.L.F., Toporcov, T.N., Biazevic, M.G.H., Boing, A.F., Scully, C. and Petti, S., 2013. Joint and independent effects of alcohol drinking and tobacco smoking on oral cancer: a large case-control study. PLoS One, 8(7).
- Bánóczy, J., Gintner, Z. and Dombi, C., 2001. Tobacco use and oral leukoplakia. Journal of dental education, 65(4), pp.322-327.
- Silverstein, P., 1992. Smoking and wound healing. The American journal of medicine, 93(1), pp.S22-S24.
- Canada, H. (2020). Smoking and Oral Cancer – Canada.ca. [online] Canada.ca. Available at: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/health-concerns/tobacco/legislation/tobacco-product-labelling/smoking-oral-cancer.html [Accessed 23 Feb. 2020].
- Office of the Surgeon General (US, 2004. The health consequences of smoking: a report of the Surgeon General.
- Boffetta, P., Hecht, S., Gray, N., Gupta, P. and Straif, K., 2008. Smokeless tobacco and cancer. The lancet oncology, 9(7), pp.667-675.
- Going, R.E., Hsu, S.C., Pollack, R.L. and Haugh, L.D., 1980. Sugar and fluoride content of various forms of tobacco. The Journal of the American Dental Association, 100(1), pp.27-33.
- Weintraub, J.A. and Burt, B.A., 1987. Periodontal effects and dental caries associated with smokeless tobacco use. Public health reports, 102(1), p.30.
- Preshaw, P.M., Heasman, L., Stacey, F., Steen, N., McCracken, G.I. and Heasman, P.A., 2005. The effect of quitting smoking on chronic periodontitis. Journal of clinical periodontology, 32(8), pp.869-879.
- Leite, F.R., Nascimento, G.G., Baake, S., Pedersen, L.D., Scheutz, F. and López, R., 2019. Impact of smoking cessation on periodontitis: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective longitudinal observational and interventional studies. Nicotine and Tobacco Research, 21(12), pp.1600-1608.
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