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Smoking and Oral Health

April 3, 2023

Smoking is a habit that about one-fifth of the global population still practices daily, and it is the second leading cause of death worldwide. Just this information is a cause for concern, as nearly 23% of adults worldwide smoke at least one cigarette daily, and most smokers are at a high risk of getting cancer and other respiratory problems.

However, here we’ll discuss another serious concern directly connected to smoking: tooth decay. Smoking can cause adverse effects on the gums and teeth, which can turn into stained teeth, bad breath, and even teeth loss.

Yep, tooth decay is a severe condition that is a present risk in anyone. Still, studies have shown that smokers have an inherently higher risk of periodontal disease and poorer overall oral health.

Tooth Decay and Gum Disease: Definitions

Before tackling the relationship between smoking and oral health, let’s define tooth decay and gum disease, so you can better understand the link between smoking and poor oral health.

  • Tooth Decay: when a tooth is affected by a bacterial infection, it can lead to the destruction of the natural protective layer of the tooth – the enamel, permanently destroying the enamel and damaging the inner layers of the tooth. If untreated, tooth decay (caries) leads to permanent loss of teeth.
  • Gum Disease: gum disease is caused by bacterial infections and starts with inflammation of the gums, swelling, and redness. If left untreated, it can spread to a broader area and enter the supporting tissues like the bone and teeth, causing more problems.

As you can note, tooth decay and gum disease are both caused by harmful bacteria in the mouth found in the plaque, the sticky transparent film that forms on the teeth and gums. The plaque bacteria feed on food particles (especially carbohydrates), excrete acids that lower the normal pH level in the mouth, making it acidic, and cause the teeth to demineralize and succumb to decay.

Contributing Factors to Tooth Decay

Several essential factors mesh and contribute to tooth decay, as each of these increases the risk of harmful bacteria growing in the dental plaque and harming the teeth and gums. Here are the main factors that affect tooth decay:

  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Dry Mouth
  • Consuming foods high in sugars
  • Certain medical conditions

How Does Smoking Affect Teeth Health?

As you can note above, dry mouth is one of the main contributing factors to tooth decay and gum disease. Excessively dry mouth leads to a significant reduction in the production of saliva, which causes a slew of adverse effects.

The natural levels of saliva production help neutralize harmful bacteria and wash away food particles. Also, a natural level of saliva production contributes to the remineralization process of the teeth, adding minerals to the teeth and preventing tooth decay.

However, when you smoke a cigarette, the nicotine and other chemicals in tobacco smoke reduce the natural saliva production process and cause dry mouth. When you have a dry mouth for prolonged periods, the harmful bacteria have more time to grow and develop, producing more harmful acids, which means the more your teeth are exposed to harmful acids and demineralization. It leads to your teeth slowly decaying and the development of gum disease, which, if left untreated, can become a severe problem.

Oral Problems Caused by Smoking

Now you know how smoking contributes to caries development and leads to tooth decay. However, this is not the only issue that smoking can cause to your oral health, as there are so many other potential issues:

  • Discoloration and yellowing of the teeth: tobacco smoke has tar and nicotine, and these two substances stick to most surfaces, including teeth, causing discoloration of the teeth. Persistent smoking will turn teeth yellow, a condition that is very difficult to treat in persistent smokers.
  • Gingivitis and periodontitis: inhaling cigarette smoke for extended periods leads to inflammation in the gums, leading to more severe gum disease and periodontitis.
  • Constant bad breath: smokers are usually faced with bad breath despite maintaining good oral hygiene. This is again related to dry mouth, poor saliva production, and possible inflammation of the gums and tongue.
  • Taste alteration: smoking causes dry mouth, and prolonged periods of dry mouth also have adverse effects on the tongue and taste buds, damaging them and altering the way you taste foods.
  • Tooth decay and tooth loss: smoking is more likely to contribute to the development of bacterial plaque, which, as noted above, is a primary contributor to tooth decay and ultimate tooth loss.
  • Increased risk of oral cancer: while smoking cigarettes is a leading contributor to the increased risk of lung and throat cancer, it also increases the risk of mouth cancer.

Can You Improve Oral Health If You Smoke?

While we’ve shown that people who smoke are at a higher risk of tooth decay, gingivitis, and periodontitis, there is some good news related to improving your oral health:

  • Quit smoking: the most obvious advice is to quit smoking, as it is the best way to prevent further tooth decay or gum disease and reduce the risk of lung, throat, and mouth cancer.
  • Improve your oral hygiene habits: prefer to brush your teeth twice a day with quality toothpaste and clean your teeth with dental floss, preventing the accumulation of food remains between the teeth.
  • Drink a healthy amount of water: water is essential for life, and everyone needs a steady intake of water; smokers should drink water steadily throughout the day to keep their mouths moist, wash away food particles, and neutralize the acids.
  • Get regular dentist check ups: anyone, whether a smoker or non-smoker, should go to regular dentist visits twice a year to check the condition of their teeth and gums.

The Bottom Line: Avoid Smoking for Improved Oral Health

To wrap up: smoking cigarettes daily has adverse effects on oral health. Continuous smoking increases the plaque bacteria that lower the mouth’s pH level, increases acidity that damages the tooth’s enamel, and can increase gum inflammation and possible periodontitis. Also, smoking lowers the natural production of saliva, which is another significant factor in tooth decay. To help their oral health, people should strive to quit or at least decrease smoking, increase their oral hygiene, and get regular dental visits.

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