Smoking and Dentistry: The Effects on Teeth

Dentists are in a unique position to help motivate their patients to quit smoking. Quitting smoking now will reduce the risk of numerous oral complications – even forms of oral amputation.

woman with yellow dirty teeth holding cigarette

The mouth is where cigarette damage originates. It is literally the entrance point for every inhalation of smoke, beginning the cycle of ill effects that it eventually causes throughout the entire body. Most people realize that smoking causes yellow teeth, and many assume that this is simply from the staining effect that smoke can have. Like many of the other health problems associated with smoking, however, the depth and breadth of the oral health deterioration linked to cigarettes is much wider than a simple cosmetic issue.

Yellowing of the teeth is actually one of the least harmful dental problems that smokers face. The teeth begin to turn yellow because the smoke begins to stain them, much in the way that coffee can stain teeth, or how smoke can stain walls, clothing and furniture after exposure. At the onset, this is just a minor cosmetic issue, but it is usually just an indicator that overall dental health is declining.

Tobacco’s Effects on Teeth

Smoking of tobacco products is a major player when it comes to gum disease. Those who smoke are much more likely to have minor gum disease, severe gum disease, or periodontitis. This is partly because smoking inhibits the body’s ability to fight off infection. When gum disease begins, the immune system may not be able to fend it off, resulting in more severe infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those who smoke are also less likely to respond to traditional gum disease treatments.

Tobacco products also lead to unsightly issues like yellowed and brown teeth. This isn’t inherently dangerous to health by itself, but it can cause embarrassment when smiling and otherwise hinder one’s self-esteem. Bad breath is also a common problem for those who smoke cigarettes, as the constant inhalation of tobacco smoke can negatively impact breath. While mints and other aids may help to some degree between cigarettes, most smokers have a near constant issue with bad breath. Bad breath is also not dangerous, but it can be an embarrassment and cause social issues when dealing with others.

Potential oral health issues related to smoking may include:

  • Gum disease
  • White patches in the mouth
  • Bad breath
  • Discoloration of the teeth
  • Inflammation of the salivary glands

According to WebMD, smoking may also lead to delayed healing after periodontal-related treatments, such as tooth extractions and root canals.

Treatment for Tooth Decay and Gum Disease

Dental practitioners may find themselves in a position to help counsel their patients. Explaining to them that their oral complications are due to their smoking, and that this habit has led to the need for treatment, may help motivate them toward quitting. The treatments necessary for oral health problems will depend on the exact issues. Gum disease may be treated with medication and special mouth washes. More severe cases may require surgery. In very severe cases, teeth can fall out. Once tooth decay and gum disease have reached this point, dentures and other tooth replacements may be necessary. These treatments are often costly and some may also be painful.

Other Oral Health Issues Related to Tobacco

Prolonged exposure to tobacco products can lead to oral cancers in some individuals. This includes smokeless tobacco, such as chew tobacco. Throat cancers, mouth cancers, and others are all linked to tobacco use. In some cases, parts of the mouth, jaw or throat may have to be removed. In addition to hindering one’s ability to eat and speak normally, these amputations can cause many psychological and emotional issues.

Prevention of Smoking Related Oral Issues

Advising patients on the merits of brushing and flossing regularly are important for anyone – especially so for smokers. Plaque buildup and tartarare also causes of gum disease, so removing this risk factor may help offset some of the issues caused by the tobacco products. This will not completely alleviate risk, however. The only way to completely alleviate the risk oftobacco related oral diseases is to quit smoking. Patients should be explained thattop smoking aids are available to those who need them. These may include nicotine replacement therapies and prescription medications.

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