Quiting habits for your oral health
Quit for your (oral) health
We all know that smoking and chewing tobacco are harmful habits. Tobacco use has,
according to the American Cancer Society, declined dramatically since the
first U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health in 1964. Still, 22 percent
of men and 17 percent of women smoke—80 percent of them on a daily basis.
Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death and illness in the United
States and the leading cause of cancer. It is associated with heart disease,
stroke, chronic obstructive lung disease, impotence and stress, to name a few.
This substance also wreaks havoc on oral health. The conditions range from relatively
minor to potentially fatal and include the following:
Tobacco contains more than 7,000 chemicals, and about 70 of them are known
to cause cancer. Lung cancer may be most commonly linked to its use, but oral cancers
are also rampantly associated with it. About 80 percent of patients with oral cancers
use tobacco, according to the American Cancer Society.
Oral cancers may affect the lips, mouth, throat or tongue. According to the National Institutes of Health, they are the sixth most common
cancers in the world. The ACS states that the risk of developing these cancers increases
with the amount smoked or chewed and the duration of the habit.
Smoking is one of the most significant risk factors associated with the development
of gum (periodontal) disease, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.
Half the cases of severe gum disease in the United States are the result of cigarette
smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and its prevalence
is three times higher among smokers than those who have never smoked.
Smokers have more plaque than nonsmokers. When plaque hardens, which may happen
within just a day or two, it calcifies and inflame oral tissues, which can lead
to gum disease. Research shows that following periodontal treatment and other oral
surgeries, the chemicals in tobacco can slow healing and make treatment results
less predictable, according to the American Academy of Periodontology.
Tooth decay, loss
Statistically, smokers have fewer remaining teeth than nonsmokers
by age 65. Because the chemicals in tobacco wear away gums, bone structure is compromised.
This may result in loosened and lost teeth.
The plaque buildup and dry mouth associated with smoking also increase decay, which
leads to cavities and other dental work. Additionally, tobacco reduces blood flow
to the gums—again, compromising their support to the teeth—and impacts the healing
of oral wounds. This means dental implants and other work may be less successful
Unpleasant looks, smells
Stained or yellowed teeth and halitosis are also problems for tobacco users. Tobacco
particles, plaque buildup, dry mouth and gum disease all play into the phenomenon
known as smoker’s breath, which is often difficult to mask with gum or mints. The
best way to combat it is to quit.
It is important to remember that smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative. These
oral health concerns may be caused by all tobacco uses. Talk to your doctor about
quitting and discuss oral health concerns with your dentist. It’s a costly habit—for
your health and your pocketbook.
Until you can kick the habit, be sure to
practice good oral hygiene, and schedule regular professional cleanings
and exams. Purchase dental insurance to cover preventive care and help pay for other
For more help with smoking cessation, visit
smokefree.gov or read the American Cancer Society’s guide to quitting.