It’s no secret that smoking cigarettes can have lasting damaging effects on the entire body. The mouth is often regarded to as the gateway to the body. The inhalation of carcinogens, tar and smoke can resonate throughout the body, starting in the mouth.
The basic effects of smoking can cause bad breath, tooth discoloration and buildup of plaque and tartar on the teeth. Habitual long-term smokers can experience a range of effects including loss of bone within the jaw, inflammation of the salivary glands, increased risk of developing leukoplakia which are grey or white patches on the tongue, gums or roof of the mouth, higher risk of developing gum disease, increased risk of tooth loss and increased risk for oral cancer.
Smokers are at a higher risk for developing gum disease. Smoking affects gum health essentially by breaking down the soft tissue and bone that anchor teeth in the jaw. As the tissue and bone erode, pockets develop around the teeth where bacteria and plaque can accumulate. Although some smokers will notice bleeding gums while brushing, many will never notice any signs of gum disease and go for an extended period before seeking treatment. Prolonged erosion can lead to tooth decay and tooth loss, as the pockets around each tooth deepen and the tissue and bone wear away.
It is thought that smoking hinders the healing process in the mouth because smoking affects blood flow to the gums. Even after treatment is sough for dental ailments, the healing process may be slower and more difficult. Smokers who opt for complex treatments such as implants and oral surgeries have a lower success rate and a longer recovery period than non-smokers. Dental work such as crowns and bridges are affected by bone recession.
Oral cancer is one of the most alarming concerns for those who smoke. According to the American Cancer Society, around 90% of patients with oral cancer and certain types of throat cancer have used tobacco, and are six times more likely to develop these cancers than non-smokers. Risk of cancer increases the longer a person continues tobacco use.
While smokers often have visible effects on their dental health, such as increased calculus buildup and discoloration of the teeth, many exhibit little to no extremely visible signs of gum disease. Twice annual dental exams are extremely important for diagnosing any possible oral health conditions, before noticeable and often painful symptoms occur. A dentist can also further explain how smoking will affect teeth and gums. Moreover, preventative care including a plan to completely quit smoking is a sure way to reduce your risk of developing symptoms.