It's not in the Surgeon General's warning on cigarette packs, but maybe it should be. Studies show that smoking and other kinds of tobacco use can ruin your teeth and cause mouth cancer.
The American Dental Association (ADA) lists some of the effects of smoking can have on your oral health:
- Oral cancer
- Periodontal (gum) disease, which is a top cause of tooth sensitivity to hot and cold and tooth loss
- Slower healing after a tooth removal or other oral surgery
- Fewer options for some kinds of dental care (smokers don't do as well with treatments like tooth implants)
- Bad breath
- Stained teeth and tongue
- Poor sense of taste and smell
In fact, the ADA says smoking could be behind as much as 75 percent of adult cases of periodontal (gum) disease.
How it happens.
Teeth are held in our jaws by a combination of bone and soft tissue. Tobacco products weaken gum tissue. This causes them to shrink or recede. When gums recede, tooth roots are left uncovered. So they're exposed to bacteria in our mouths, and all the things we eat, drink, or smoke. This leads to more risk of sensitivity to hot and cold and tooth decay in these unprotected areas.
The ADA isn't the only group who thinks smoking leads to tooth loss. The American Academy of Periodontology says recent studies show that tobacco use may be one of the top risk reasons for periodontal (gum) disease. And even when you get treatment for gum disease, tobacco chemicals can slow down the healing process. Smokers' results after oral surgery aren't very good, either.
The progress of periodontal disease
How does smoking raise your risk for periodontal disease? For starters, smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to have the following problems:
- More calculus, which is plaque that hardens on your teeth. Calculus can only be removed by professional cleaning.
- "Deep pockets" that form between your teeth and gums.
- Loss of the bone and tissue that hold your teeth in your jaw.
- If the calculus is not removed and "hides" below the gum line, bacteria in the calculus can destroy gum tissue. This causes gums to pull away from the teeth. The gaps that are left are called "periodontal pockets" and fill with disease-causing bacteria.
- Periodontal disease will get worse if it's not treated. The pockets between teeth and gums can grow deeper, letting in more bacteria. After a while, this bacteria destroy tissue and supporting bone.
- As the gums shrink away from the teeth, they will start to appear longer, and they can get more sensitive. If you continue to go without treatment, your teeth may become loose, painful, and may even fall out.
- Losing teeth isn't pretty. Once their teeth fall out, people tend to look even older as their cheeks cave in and their skin sags.
Save your smile.
Research shows that smokers lose more teeth than nonsmokers. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says about 20 percent of people older than 65 who have never smoked are toothless, but 41.3 percent of daily smokers older than 65 have lost all their teeth.
Like the other studies, the CDC study says people who smoke don't heal as well after periodontal treatment. But the CDC also says if you kick the habit before treatment, you can recover as well as a nonsmoker would.
Pipes, cigars and "smokeless" tobacco do damage, too.
The American Academy of Periodontology and the American Dental Association both say that pipes and cigars do just as much harm to teeth, gums, and jawbones.
And chewing tobacco? It's just as bad. The Mayo Clinic will tell you why. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/chewing-tobacco/CA00019
Where to turn for help
Today, there are many resources to help smokers get free of tobacco. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers all kinds of help at its http://smokefree.gov website.
Other places to find help are the American Lung Association and the United States Surgeon General's Office. The American Lung Association hosts regular workshops, classes, and support groups through its local offices. Visit its website to find listings of groups in your area.
Quitting smoking can be a tough process. A healthy smile, a healthier body, a younger look, and more time enjoying the good things in life: isn't that worth some extra effort?