Most people have a general sense of just how terrible smoking is for your teeth… and your lungs, heart, skin, hair, muscles and nearly every other part of your body. But because we’re dentists — and because we’re pretty passionate about your pearly whites — today we’re going to focus exclusively on smoking’s awful effects on your oral health.
The sad truth is that many people, often due to generational or geographic differences in health education, aren’t fully aware of the specific ways cigarettes, cigars and even pipes damage your mouth. And although it may seem that, after years of smoking, it’s sometimes too late to avoid this damage, trust us: that isn’t true. It’s never too late to quit, and it’s never too late to see noticeable improvements in your smile.
The Sights and Smells of Smoking
Often the most immediate effect is yellowing. This discolouration is courtesy of two things: tar and nicotine. They stain the layer of protective enamel that coats each tooth. Within months of heavy smoking, teeth become noticeably yellow. Within years, they can even become brown. Bleaching can address this issue, but as long as the smoking continues, the discolouration will return.
Smoking also increases the build-up of plaque and calculus — the hard material that plaque forms into when not properly removed. Along with tar and nicotine stains, these can lead to foul and persistent odours. In other words: bad breath.
Unfortunately, as smoking affects the sense of smell, many heavy smokers don’t always realize this. Mouthwash and breath mints address the problem momentarily, but the issue will usually return as long as the smoking continues.
Gum Disease and Leukoplakia
Gum disease, or gingivitis, is a bacterial infection caused by the build-up of plaque and tartar around the gums. Leukoplakia is a disorder of the mouth’s tissues that cause white or grey discolouration on the cheek, tongue or gums, along with possible soreness and pain. These are both issues that can affect everyone, smoker and non-smoker alike. But smokers are at much greater risk because smoking hinders your tissue’s ability to heal itself. So the minor case of gingivitis that a non-smoker may recover from relatively quickly can turn into a serious issue for the smoker, and may even result in tooth loss. Leukoplakia, while not dangerous in itself, can be …
Cancers of the mouth can take many forms, and smokers are much more likely than non-smokers to experience one form or another. Generally, oral cancer appears as a growth or change in the tissues of the oral cavity (e.g. cheek, tongue, palate, sinus etc.). Symptoms can include persistent soreness of the throat, swelling or thickening of the tongue or gums, rough spots or crusts, unexplained oral bleeding, numbness or tenderness around the face and neck, and the development of soft red or white patches in the mouth. If not diagnosed and treated immediately, oral cancer can result in the loss of part of your tongue, jaw or palate, and can even lead to death. Cancer is, hands down, the greatest reason to stop smoking now.
Ready to quit?
You can, and we can help.
We can recommend healthier alternatives such as gums or sprays, educate you further on the effects of smoking, prescribe smoking cessation mediations, and catch early warning signs of gum disease, leukoplakia or cancer. If you want to quit smoking, or are worried about the long-term effects that the habit may have caused, schedule an appointment. Nothing makes us happier than supporting our patients in becoming the healthiest they can be.