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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:

Oral cancer

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.

Gum disease

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 in smokers.

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 dental work.

For more help with smoking cessation, visit or read the American Cancer Society’s guide to quitting.

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