We all know that smoking is bad for our oral health - but how exactly does smoking affect our teeth and gums?
In this article, we’re taking a look at the way that smoking (and vaping) can lead to an increased risk of dental health issues such as gum disease, tooth loss and oral cancer.
What oral health problems can be caused by smoking?
Smoking increases your risk of developing a range of oral health conditions affecting the teeth and gums. Here are some of the most common oral issues experienced by people who smoke:
- Gum disease
- Mouth cancer
- Tooth decay and tooth loss
- Poor healing after tooth removal or oral surgery
- Whitening of soft tissue in the mouth (called smoker’s keratosis)
- Reduced sense of taste
- Bad breath (halitosis)
The link between smoking and gum disease
Gum disease - also known as periodontal disease - is caused by dental plaque, which results from the presence of bacteria. If left on the teeth or gums, this dental plaque can harden and form calculus or tartar which irritate the gums around the teeth.
When left untreated, gum disease can damage the bone that surrounds and supports the teeth, eventually causing teeth to fall out or need to be removed.
Smoking can cause gum disease, with people who smoke at a higher risk of developing this condition (particularly heavy smokers).
Symptoms of gum disease in smokers can include:
- Red, inflamed or bleeding gums
- Pus or discharge coming from the gums
- Loose gums that pull away from your teeth
- An unpleasant taste in your mouth or bad breath
- Loose teeth
- Increasing gaps between your teeth
If you smoke, it’s important to see your dentist regularly for check-ups, particularly if you notice any of these symptoms.
Smoking and longer healing times after dental treatment
As tobacco reduces the immune system’s ability to fight infections, smoking can slow down the natural healing process after dental treatment such as tooth removal or injuries in the mouth.
Smoking can result in the following problems relating to mouth healing:
- Dry socket, a painful condition in which the tooth socket heals very slowly after tooth removal
- Increased pain following oral or gum surgery
- Lower success rate for dental implants
Oral cancer and smoking
Oral cancer is a cancer of the mouth, including the tongue, cheek, roof or floor of the mouth and lips. Smoking is one of the primary risk factors for developing oral cancer, with the risk increasing for people who smoke and drink alcohol.
The symptoms of oral cancer can include the following:
- A persistent ulcer in your mouth or on your lip that doesn’t clear up after 7-10 days (often not painful)
- White or red patch in the mouth
- Swelling in the mouth
- Dentures suddenly not fitting properly
See your dentist immediately if you notice any of these symptoms. Early diagnosis of oral cancer is crucial to ensure treatment can begin as soon as possible and prevent the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body.
The oral health risks of vaping
While vaping (smoking e-cigarettes or water pipes) may appear to be less harmful to your health than smoking normal cigarettes, it may pose a serious risk to your oral health.
Vaping involves the inhalation of e-liquids (known as vaping juice) which can contain damaging substances, including nicotine, heavy metals, and cancer-causing chemicals. If your vaping device contains nicotine, the oral health risks can be much higher.
While the long-term health impacts of vaping are not yet fully known, early evidence suggests that vaping can cause inflammation in the mouth, which can lead to gum disease and other oral health conditions.
Will quitting smoking reduce my risk of oral health problems?
Yes. If you smoke, the good news is that quitting will reduce your risk of gum disease and other oral health conditions. In fact, people who quit smoking have the same risk of developing gum disease and responding to gum treatment as non-smokers.
For advice on the most effective way to quit smoking, talk to your doctor.
If you’d like to speak to your dentist about the oral health risks of smoking - or if you’re concerned about symptoms - make an appointment with your local National Dental Care Group practitioner. You can book online now.